From The Pill to the Chill: Why Orthopedic Recovery Is Shifting Focus From Opioids to Cold Therapy

Before the Covid-19 pandemic took over media coverage in March of 2020, a different kind of epidemic was seeping into the public consciousness. References to the “opioid epidemic” or “opioid crisis in America” were nearly as common in the years preceding the pandemic as references to Covid and vaccinations have been since Dr. Fauci became a public fixture in American media.  

Alarmed by the spread of opioid related deaths in the country, and the inaction of lawmakers and the medical community at large, award-winning documentarian, Alex Gibney, decided to tackle the topic in a newly released hard-hitting expose, tellingly entitled, “Crime of the Century.”

In its review of Gibney’s film, Variety magazine highlights how a calculated campaign of misinformation from pharmaceutical brands rooted the country’s opioid epidemic in the “pain relief” narrative that drug makers foisted upon an unsuspecting public: 

“OxyContin wasn’t the first opiate identical to heroin to be marketed as a narcotic for pain relief. But each pill was embossed with a sealant that allowed the drug to be time-released into the bloodstream, and the Purdue Pharma executives used that fact to pretend that the drug was infinitely safer — less prone to abuse — than it was. The stage was then set for the drug to be prescribed not just for late-stage cancer patients or for those recovering from surgery, but for anyone suffering from any kind of pain.” 

The Variety review goes on to describe the introduction of OxyContin to the U.S. market as being “so medically irresponsible it was morally (and maybe legally) indistinguishable from back-alley drug dealing”.

Regardless of how greedy pharma executives may be, certainly, pain relief itself was not and is not the enemy. When dealing with patients’ natural response to orthopedic surgery, relieving their pain is an ethical goal. Opioids can play a role in achieving that aim when prescribed and used properly. But given the inherent risks of addiction, healthcare providers are now increasingly supplementing opioid prescriptions with a clinically vetted and safer long term alternative—cold therapy. 

Cold therapy offers a number of proven benefits beyond what opioids can provide, including the reduction of swelling (the source of pain), reduction of nerve activity and lowered skin temperature. 

Historically, cold therapy has been administered through complicated medical devices like ice-machines—a highly effective, albeit expensive cold therapy treatment method. But because ice-machines are typically not covered by most insurance companies, the extra out-of-pocket costs have kept this option out of reach for the majority of orthopedic patients. 

With the increased scrutiny of widespread opioid dependence, coupled with the advent of advanced industrial prototyping and production methods, the time for better, more affordable cold therapy solutions has arrived. And with it, comes an important additional treatment enhancement: compression. 

A recent study has shown that when combined with compression, cold therapy is even more effective in reducing pain and swelling in patients after surgery. 

Graymont X (formerly Lake Effect Medical) is on the forefront of combining the benefits of cold therapy with the benefits of compression. 

In consultation with an advisory board of leading orthopedic specialists, Graymont X has developed a line of compression-enhanced recovery solutions with integrated cold therapy technology. Our system includes braces and wraps specifically designed to pair with their integrated cold therapy SnoPak technology that provides up to four hours of continuous and reusable cold treatment and comfortably conforms to the body—reducing pain, swelling and inflammation to accelerate healing. 

Ultimately, attempting to treat patient comfort levels is how the opioid epidemic began. And now, poetically, it’s also one of the primary catalysts for turning the tide of over reliance on opioids to a much better, safer approach—our system of cold therapy braces, wraps, accessories, opioid safety education and safe disposal of opioids.

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