First Impressions: Aircast Cryo Cuff
Mountain bikers are tough.
We smash the toughest terrain, the steepest climbs, the gnarliest descents, and yet we keep coming back for more.
When injuries occur, we naturally want to get rolling again as quickly as possible.
Luckily, there is a wonderful little device that can help us do just that.
What is it?
The Aircast Cryo Cuff is a system of automated cooling and compression devices to assist with recovery from injuries and surgery.
It comes in a variety of different sizes and configurations allowing it to be used on different parts of the body including knees, wrists, elbows, ankles, feet, thighs, back and.shoulders.
The cuff fits firmly around the affected joint and attaches to an ice-filled cooler via a tube with a firm snap-in connector.
Various cuffs can be purchased separately, so if you have one cooler you can use different cuffs for different injuries.
I purchased a knee cuff, and a cooler with a pump. The pump pushes cold water from the cooler into the cuff every thirty seconds. As the cuff fills with cold water, it tightens, then eases off, gently massaging the injured area, compressing and cooling it.
The cooler and tube are insulated, and when filled to the top with ice, will keep chilling for over six hours.
Why do I need it?
When treating soft-tissue sports injuries, doctors use the acronym R.I.C.E. as a guide. The letters stand for:
Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
To encourage healing, reduce swelling and manage pain, it often helps to rest the patient, chill the injury with ice-packs, compress it with a compression bandage, and raise it higher than usual.
I have a compression bandage which I can use to treat swelling. I’ve also used ice packs applied directly to the injured joint. This was a bit difficult. Sometimes the ice got too cold, so I couldn’t use the packs for too long, and they moved around. I had to hold the packs in place with something. Plus the packs didn’t stay cold for very long – maybe an hour.
I also spent some time in the swimming pool. In Brisbane in early Spring, unheated backyard pool water is cool but not freezing. Sometimes I gently walk around in the bracing water, letting it cool the joint.
Chilling and compression work. I’ve been able to reduce the swelling, which gives me a greater range of movement. The results have been so good that I’ve even been able to spend some time turning the pedals over on a stationary trainer bike. Without the range of movement it was impossible to bend my knee enough to turn the pedals a complete revolution. After chilling, and with the increase in movement range, I was able to gently rock the pedals back and forth for a few minutes and eventually complete full revolutions of the cranks.
The first time I managed this since the injury, the whole neighborhood could hear my “whoops” of joy.
Why is “Range of Movement” important?
When I recently tore all the major ligaments in my knee I wanted to recover as quickly as possible. I expected to shake hands with a surgeon, boast about my exploits, set a date for reconstruction surgery, then get back on the bike in record time.
But it doesn’t work like that.
Some surgery can’t proceed until a minimum amount of healing has taken place.
My doctor won’t operate on my knee until I have “range of movement” from zero to 90 degrees. In other words until I can straighten it fully, and bend it at a right-angle.
I’ve been trying enthusiastically to do this, but it takes time, and lots of rehab.
Swelling in the joint reduces Range of Movement. The RICE protocol reduces swelling, and helps me regain a greater range. This means I will be able to have my operation sooner and can engage in a wider range of rehab exercises which will speed up the healing process.
How does the Cryo Cuff stack up?
Cheap ice packs become damp with condensation. Really cheap ones leak. The Cryo Cuff is well made. It doesn’t leak. The cooler and tube are insulated – they don’t feel cold on the outside, and so don’t attract condensation. The snap-in connection between the tube and cuff are firm and sturdy with no seepage. When the tube is disconnected, it automatically seals off so no water can get out accidentally.
Ease of Setup.
I can get chilled in a couple of minutes, and usually follow these steps:
- Fill the cooler up to the level marker with water.
- Top up with ice.
- Fit the cuff while it’s unconnected. It has Velcro straps which make it easy to adjust.
- Snap the tube into the cuff, and raise it temporarily to move some water into the cuff.
- Turn on power to the air pump.
One minor disadvantage is that the power cable is about two metres long. If you’re unable to sit near a power socket you may need an electrical extension cable. No one in my family has complained to me about the extension cable that currently stretches across our lounge room floor
Moving around with the Cryo Cuff attached isn’t as hard as it seems. The cooler has a handle attached to the top. If I need to get up I just disconnect the power and carry the cooler around with me.
I found that if the cuff isn’t fitted firmly it can move around or slide down my leg as I walk around. Thankfully the Cuff has two sturdy Velcro straps and an adjustment flap which lets me fit it to the contour of my knee. When fitted properly it does stay in place if I have to move around.
If I need to move around for an extended period of time I just turn the pump off, remove the cuff from my knee, do what I have to do, then put it back on again.
After I’ve finished using the Cryo Cuff I usually follow these steps.
- Disconnect the power
- Remove the cuff from my knee
- Hold the cuff higher than the cooler allowing the water to drain out of the cuff back into the cooler.
- Disconnect the tube from the cuff.
- Empty the cooler
I found that when disconnecting the tube it’s important to ensure that all the water has drained from the cuff first. Otherwise I run the risk of cold water dripping out of the connection hole in the cuff.
Is it worth it?
My configuration of Cooler with pump, and large knee cuff cost me about $USD 280. There are a number of different online suppliers, and pre-owned units are often for sale on ebay.
For me it was a no-brainer. I was already injured, I wanted to recover quickly, and (even though my health fund wouldn’t contribute towards the cost) the price seemed reasonable.
It’s probably not the sort of device you would buy “just in case” you suffered an injury, but I imagine that a cooler and set of various Cryo Cuffs might be a worthwhile purchase for mountain bike clubs.
Now that I have a Cryo Cuff, I won’t be selling it after I’ve recovered. I think it does the job, and I plan to keep mine on hand just in case I suffer another injury.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I am not qualified to offer medical advice. This article should in no way be construed as medical advice.