Pre-emptive ice cube cryotherapy for reducing pain from local anaesthetic injections for simple lacerations: a randomised controlled trial

Emerg Med J. 2018 Feb;35(2):103-107. doi: 10.1136/emermed-2017-206585. Epub 2017 Oct 12.


Objective: Subcutaneous local anaesthetic injection can be painful to patients in the ED. We evaluated the effect of cryotherapy by application of an ice cube to the injection site prior to injection in patients with simple lacerations.

Methods: We conducted a prospective, randomised, controlled trial in consented patients with simple lacerations needing primary repair at a single emergency centre from April to July 2016. We randomly assigned patients undergoing repair for simple lacerations to either the cryotherapy group or the control group (standard care; no cryotherapy or other pretreatment of the injection site). In cryotherapy group subjects, we applied an ice cube (size: 1.5×1.5×1.5 cm) placed inside a sterile glove on the wound at the anticipated subcutaneous lidocaine injection site for 2 min prior to injection. The primary outcome was a subjective numeric rating (0-10 scale) of the perceived pain from the subcutaneous local anaesthetic injections. Secondary outcomes were (a) perceived pain on a numeric scale for cryotherapy itself, that is, pain from contact of the ice cube/glove with the skin and (b) the rate of complications after primary laceration repair.

Results: Fifty patients were enrolled, consented and randomised, with 25 in the cryotherapy group and 25 in the control group. The numeric rating scale for subcutaneous anaesthetic injections was median, IQR, 95% CI 2.0 (1 to 3.5), 1.81 to 3.47, respectively, in the cryotherapy group and 5.0 (3 to 7), 3.91 to 6.05 in the control group (Mann-Whitney U=147.50, p=0.001). No wound complications occurred in either group. The numeric rating scale for cryotherapy itself was median, IQR, 95% CI: 2.0 (1 to 3.5), 1.90 to 3.70.

Conclusion: Pre-emptive topical injection site cryotherapy lasting 2 min before subcutaneous local anaesthetic injections can significantly reduce perceived pain from subcutaneous local anaesthetic injections in patients presenting for simple laceration repair.

Trial registration number: KCT0001990.

Keywords: emergency department; pain management; wounds, treatment.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics / pharmacology
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Anesthesia, Local / methods
  • Anesthesia, Local / standards*
  • Cryotherapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ice*
  • Injections, Subcutaneous / adverse effects
  • Lacerations / drug therapy*
  • Lacerations / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Management / methods
  • Pain Management / standards*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Sutures


  • Analgesics
  • Ice