Heat it up or cool it down: When to use hot/cold therapy
You have probably used hot or cold therapy at some point to treat an injury or relieve pain. Whether you have used an ice pack to soothe a twisted ankle or a heat pack to treat your back pain, you know that using either cold or heat can help when you hurt yourself. The question is, when should you use heat therapy and when should you use cold therapy? Using the right option is important if you want to avoid making your pain worse, or just not having any effect at all. If you want to understand which one to use, there are a few rules that you can follow.
When to Use Cold Therapy
Applying a cold pack or cold compress is often used as part of RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) therapy. It can be used to help reduce swelling, and can be applied in many different ways, from reusable ice packs to ice baths. Cold therapy often works best combined with other treatments, such as using a support for an injured joint. Ice packs for injuries are a key part of any first aid kit.
How cold therapy helps
Cold therapy helps to relieve pain and encourage healing by reducing blood flow. This helps to reduce inflammation and swelling, and can even reduce nerve activity, which helps with pain. The reduced blood flow means less fluid around the area, which means less swelling. Some of the ways to administer cold therapy include ice packs, cooling sprays, ice massage and ice baths. Of course, frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel can often work in a pinch, but it’s much better if you have a cool pack in your freezer.
Types of pain and injury to treat with cold therapy
Cold therapy is the best choice if you want to treat acute injuries and pain to lower inflammation and swelling. This might include a variety of injuries, such as sprains and other injuries to the joints or tendons. Cold therapy can help to soothe bruising and treat injuries such as muscle tears too. It should be used for three to five days after an injury to help keep swelling and inflammation down. Apply an ice pack to your knee if you twist or bruise it, or keep sports ice packs on hand to soothe injured ankles.
When not to use cold therapy
There are some times when using cold therapy isn’t a good idea. For example, anyone with a sensory disorder that prevents them from feeling some sensations should avoid it. This is because if you can’t feel the cold, you could end up hurting yourself. You shouldn’t use cold therapy on stiff joints or muscles, and you should also avoid using it if you have poor circulation.
When to Use Heat Therapy
Whereas cold therapy reduces blood flow, heat therapy helps to increase it. It can help to soothe pain and to relieve stiffness in muscles. Heat therapy might be applied using a heat pad, hot water bottle, heated gel or other methods, which can include both dry heat and moist heat.
How heat therapy helps
Heat therapy improves blood flow and circulation, which helps to make muscles more flexible and relieve pain and discomfort. Applying a hot pack is a great way to soothe lots of injuries and sources of pain.
Types of pain and injury to treat with heat therapy
Heat therapy is best for stiff muscles and joints. It can help to soothe tired muscles after exercising, relieve cramps and treat conditions such as arthritis. You might use it on injuries such as sprains and strains after using cold therapy. If a muscle or joint starts to stiffen, switching from cold therapy to heat therapy can help. You can use a heating pad for your back when it hurts, a neck heating pad, shoulder heating pad or knee heating pad to treat sore muscles.
Heat therapy includes dry heat, such as heating pads and packs, and moist heat, such as moist heat packs and hot baths. While cold therapy should only be used for a short amount of time, heat therapy works best when it’s used for longer.
When not to use heat therapy
Heat therapy should be used carefully, and there are some occasions when it’s not the best choice. When there is bruising or swelling, cold therapy is often the better choice, especially for a new injury. Heat therapy shouldn’t be used for an open wound, but it can help to heal a wound that has already scabbed over. Heat therapy isn’t appropriate for people with some conditions, including diabetes, vascular disease and multiple sclerosis (MS).
Heat and cold therapy items are essential to add to your first aid kit. Hot and cold packs that can be either heated up or cooled down, depending on how you want to use them, mean that you can always have what you need. You can use them in whichever way is most appropriate to treat the injury that you want to treat.