When you get an injury do your reach for an ice pack or a hot pack? A bag of frozen peas or a hot shower? Does it matter? Which is better? Let’s discuss.
Heat therapy helps to improve circulation, and increase blood flow to the area where the heat is applied. This temporary increase in blood flow helps to decrease muscle tension and can temporarily increase muscle flexibility.
What is Heat Good For?
- Worked out too hard at the gym? Over-exertion often leads to a delayed onset of muscle soreness. This type of heavy, achy muscle pain responds well to heat.
- Osteoarthritis – joint pain related to bony degeneration can be soothed with heat.
- Muscle pain – stiff muscles or trigger points (‘muscle knots’) can be effectively treated with heat. Been sitting at a computer all day and your neck is feeling stiff? A heat pack will be your best friend!
How to Use Heat Safely
- It is important to monitor your use of heat carefully. Heat should be applied for about 20 minutes at a time, and your skin should be allowed to cool back to room temperature before it is re-applied.
- You should be careful not to fall asleep with a heat pack on to avoid over-exposure and potential burns.
Heat Should NOT be Applied To:
- red, swollen areas
- new injuries (less than 72 hours old)
- active inflammatory arthritis
- areas of infection
- open wounds
Cold therapy, or cryotherapy, works in the opposite way heat does. Cold application causes a decrease in blood flow to the area.
What is Cold Therapy Good For?
- New injuries benefit from cold therapy. When an injury first occurs, inflammation gathers around the injured site and contributes to pain. Ice helps to manage the inflammation.
- Red, swollen and/or hot tissues can be calmed with ice application.
How to Use Cold Therapy?
- Cold therapy should be applied no longer than 20 minutes at a time. The ice should be removed long enough that the tissue completely heats back up between applications (we like to use the ‘20 minutes ON, 20 minutes OFF, 20 minutes ON’ model)
- Make sure there is a thin towel between your skin and the ice pack. This will help to avoid frostbite!
Cold Should NOT Be Applied To:
- Areas that are stiff as it can make the stiffness feel worse
So there is it. Nice and simple. Using hot and cold therapy can be a soothing part of treatment, and now you know when to use it properly!