Cooling Lower Leg Skin to Prevent Venous Leg Ulcers in Patients With Poor Vein Circulation

Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) logo

Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC)

Status and phase

Phase 2
Phase 1


Venous Ulcers
Venous Insufficiency
Venous Disease
Venous Vascular Diseases and Syndromes


Procedure: Usual care
Procedure: Cryotherapy: Cooling gel wrap

Study type


Funder types



1R01NR012237-01A1 (U.S. NIH Grant/Contract)

Details and patient eligibility


Leg vein circulation problems can damage the skin of the lower legs, especially around the ankles, by making it discolored, hard, itchy, red, and swollen. Ulcers often develop. Inflammation is often present in the damaged skin. This study will test whether using a special low compression, cooling, boot-like gel wrap placed around the damaged skin of the lower legs will improve the skin circulation and prevent leg ulcers. The study hypothesis is: A cryotherapy, low-compression cooling gel wrap (CW) plus usual care (UC) (leg elevation, compression stockings) intervention compared to a low compression non-cryotherapy "sham" wrap (NW) plus UC will reduce tissue blood flow (perfusion units) and decrease the incidence of venous leg ulcers (VLUs) during the 9-month study period in individuals with Stage 4 and 5 venous insufficiency.

Full description

This new trial will assess the efficacy of this home-based cryotherapy intervention by adding sequenced tapered cooling after a 30-day intense cooling period. The goal is to reduce skin blood flow of chronically inflamed skin, decrease the incidence of venous leg ulcers and pain, and improve quality of life. A myriad of surgical, pharmacologic, and non-pharmacologic therapies such as compression bandages are often tried, many with limited success. More than 70% of patients with venous disorders such as insufficiency develop edema, skin damage, and ulcers. Ulcer prevention is warranted because of the significant socioeconomic implications in terms of lost workdays and wages, decreased productivity and increased health care costs. Clinicians focus on the multiple treatment approaches, often without consideration of how patients can contribute to their own self-care. Our 9-month intervention is based on principles of heat transfer and cryotherapy theories involving microcirculation. With input from a cryotherapy expert and participants who completed the R21 pilot, the investigators propose a sequenced intervention strategy, where cooling will be dosed daily for 30 minutes for the first month, and then decreased to twice weekly dosing in months 2-3, once weekly in months 4-6, then PRN in months 7-9. The investigators will measure blood flow, skin temperature, pain, quality of life, and the incidence of leg ulcers after months 1, 3, 6 and 9. Eligible participants will be randomized to treatment (low compression cooling wrap) or usual care (low compression non-cooling "sham" wrap). Participants in both groups will receive all study related materials including standardized instruction, skin thermometer, specially designed low compression wraps, leg elevator pillow, and compression stockings, and during an in-depth orientation session. The investigators hypothesize that cryotherapy will enhance the largely ineffective non-pharmacologic self-care usual care model, that is, telling patients to wear compression stockings, elevate the legs, and get more exercise. These strategies are generally inadequate in achieving sustained change. Among our research methods the investigators include rigorous process, impact and outcome monitoring. In an era of expectation for technological and pharmaceutical "fixes", this self-care strategy, if efficacious, could be an economical way to decrease morbidity and pain for thousands of patients, frequently viewed as non-responsive to self care. Prevention of ulcers is also a major potential source of saved medical dollars. This trial is significant due to the burden of venous disorders, the complex physical characteristics of the population including excessive obesity and co-morbidity and the need to reach patients with a feasible, motivational, and supportive strategy to promote self-care. The objective is to establish a new practice standard for prevention.


197 patients




21+ years old


No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

  • aged 21 years or older
  • CEAP Classification: Stage C4 (skin damage) and 5 (healed VLU) - leg ulcer healed within past month with intact epithelium
  • history of healed VLU within past 2 years
  • ankle brachial index (ABI) 0.80 - 1.3 mmHG, absence of peripheral arterial disease
  • intact skin sensation
  • intact thermal sensation
  • agreement to ear compression during waking hours
  • phone, email or mail accessible
  • willingness to make 5 study visits including baseline
  • able to understand protocol by passing test after watching DVD standardized instructions for low literacy
  • able to perform required protocol activities
  • ability to speak English

Exclusion criteria

  • diagnosed arterial disease or ABI <0.80 or >1.3 mm Hg (blood flow to the skin is reduced in arterial disease and cooling could cause tissue ischemia)
  • surgical procedures on leg in past 1 year (can affect venous circulation/cause edema)
  • open leg/foot ulcers
  • recent leg infection within past month (increased inflammation)
  • impaired cognitive status (cannot perform procedures)
  • chronic inflammatory and vascular conditions where blood flow of the skin may be impacted such as Lupus erythematosus, lymphedema, Raynaud's, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, end stage renal disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic regional pain syndrome, multiple sclerosis, hypersensitivity to cold, or patients on chemotherapy

Trial design

Primary purpose




Interventional model

Parallel Assignment


Single Blind

197 participants in 2 patient groups

Experimental group
Cryotherapy is delivered via a cooling "gel" wrap applied to the affected lower leg using a dosing regimen, starting with daily cooling in month one to PRN in the last 3 months over the 9 month study.
Procedure: Cryotherapy: Cooling gel wrap
Usual care
Sham Comparator group
The "sham" wrap, filled with cotton, is applied to the affected lower leg using a dosing regimen, starting with daily application in month one to PRN in the last 3 months over the 9 month study.
Procedure: Usual care

Trial contacts and locations



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