Has a weekend of skiing left you sore and stiff? Did you have a fall and bang your knee? These types of aches and pains often appear and it is very common to use hot and cold therapy to treat them. It's the most common type of non-addictive and non-invasive pain relief therapies for aches and pains. The one you use depends on the type of injury.
Often a new injury is treated with cold therapy to decrease blood flow hence decreasing inflammation and swelling. For recurring pain, hot therapy will help increase blood flow to the area to promote healing.
When you have any strain, sprain or bruise, there will be some bleeding into the underlying tissues. This often leads to pain and swelling. Using cold therapy (ice/ice packs) for soft tissue injuries can make the healing process faster and it may also be used in later rehabilitation.
The reason for using cold therapy for immediate treatment is to limit the body's response to injury. Cold therapy can:
Cold therapy may also enhance the effects of other treatments, such as exercise for reducing muscle spasms and pain. By using cold therapy, it will allow better movement. If you are doing exercise as a part of rehabilitation, you may apply ice pack before beginning your exercise, or you may opt to keep it in place during your exercise. This will reduce the pain and hence will allow for better movement with the injury.
All cold treatments should be used as soon as possible. It is suggested to use it within 24 to 48 hours of an injury. Use cold therapy if you have suffered recent acute inflammation (tissue damage) which includes strains, sprains, bumps and bruises from heavy lifting or sports. Sometimes using cold therapy will relieve pain for chronic injuries.
Application of cold therapy has many options. You can use an ice pack, an ice massage, a damp towel placed in a plastic bag and put in the freezer for 15 minutes, a cold gel pack or even frozen vegetables.
Using heat therapy will open up the blood vessels. This will increase blood flow and supply oxygen and nutrients to the area while reducing pain in joints, relaxing sore muscles, ligaments and tendons. Hot therapy also decreases muscle spasms, increases range of motion, improves flexibility of tendons and ligaments and alleviates pain.
Use heat therapy for injuries that are a day or more old, such as muscle spasms, arthritis, chronic muscle pain and chronic joint pain or stiffness.
Hot therapy can be applied by multiple methods including: microwavable or electric heating pads, gel packs, hot baths, steam baths, saunas or hot water bottles. For local application, wrap the heating device in a folded towel and apply it to the area for less than 20 minutes. It should be warm, not overly hot. If possible, it should stay at a constant temperature. Ask your medical provider what is the best option for you.
After using cold therapy for 3 to 5 days for acute injuries, experts recommend to alternate hot and cold therapyfor effective pain relief from muscle tears, overuse injuries and chronic joint pain. These two therapies work cohesively to assist in a quicker recovery.