CoughExerciseHeart Disease

Cold therapy to manage cough pain after heart surgery

Coughing is the most painful experience following heart surgery.

Researchers at the University of Ottawa, in Canada used cold therapy to help manage sternal incisional pain.

First, the details.

  • 32 patients were randomly assigned to receive both treatments.
    • Application of a frozen gel pack to the sternal incision dressing before performing deep breathing and coughing exercises.
    • No gel pack
  • Pain scores from 0 to 10 at rest were compared with pain scores after deep breathing and coughing exercises.
  • Participants described their sensations with the frozen gel pack and their preferences for gel pack application.

And, the results.

  • There was a significant reduction in pain scores before and after application of the gel pack.
  • 22 (69%) participants preferred using the gel pack.
  • All participants would reapply the gel pack in the future.

The bottom line?

A PubMed search failed to reveal a similar study.

The authors concluded, “Cold therapy can be used to manage sternal incisional pain when deep breathing and coughing.”

How does it work?

Hospice website tells us, “The same nerve pathways transmit the sensations of pain, heat, cold, and pressure to the brain. When the skin is stimulated so that pressure, warmth, or cold is felt, pain sensation is lessened or blocked. Skin stimulation also alters the flow of blood to the affected area. Sometimes skin stimulation will get rid of the pain, or the pain will be less during the stimulation and for hours after it is finished.”

On the other hand, perhaps holding the gel pack to your chest helps simply supports the rib cage and cushions the trauma.

5/13/10 20:15 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.