Cryotherapy, or cold therapy, has been shown to prevent laminitis in the at-risk equine patient and is often recommended for relieving pain and inflammation in the acutely laminitic horse. In a workshop at the 6th International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot, held Oct. 28-31 in West Palm Beach, Fla., three laminitis researchers discussed commonly used cryotherapy methods.

Presenters included Christopher Pollitt, BVSc, PhD, director of the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit and honorary professor of equine medicine at the University of Queensland’s School of Veterinary Science; Andrew van Eps, BVSc, PhD, MACVSc, and Dipl. ACVIM, senior lecturer in equine medicine at the University of Queensland’s School of Veterinary Science; and James Orsini, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, associate professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, all of whom have studied and practiced cryotherapy.

Cryotherapy is known to have anti-inflammatory effects, along with analgesia (pain relief), vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels), and hypometabolism (which reduces the metabolic demands of the foot or, as Orsini explained it, "puts the foot into a temporary state of hibernation"). The therapy’s key mechanism is that it reduces enzymatic activity in the lamellar tissue by about 50% for every 10°C drop in tissue temperature. Benefits of this include:

  • Decreased pain and muscle spasm (a local anesthetic effect);
  • Reduced edema (fluid swelling) due to increased blood viscosity and enhanced coagulation; and
  • Reduced metabolic ne