Choosing between Cold therapy or Heat Therapy !

You have an injury. All you can think about is the pain. Do you reach for the heating pad or the ice pack? Which will help the most? Hot Pack or Cold pack

We treat everything from arthritis to pulled muscles to inflammation with ice packs or heating pads. Treating pain with hot and cold can be extremely effective for several different conditions and injuries, and easily affordable. 

The tricky part is knowing what situations call for hot, and which calls for cold. Sometimes a single treatment will even include both. Warmth seems inviting, but you know that cold is a very helpful therapy. It may be hard to decipher especially when pain is clouding your mind. Making a thoughtful choice will help you feel better. Making the wrong choice can lead to adverse reactions and more pain rather than relief.

Start by knowing when to use each therapy. The simple answer is ice is for injuries; heat is for muscles, chronic pain, and stress. However, that can still be confusing. For instance, a freshly pulled muscle is an injury.

When to Ice Pack?

Injuries result in damaged tissue, which leads to inflammation. This is a normal process of red, hot, and swollen tissue. Icing this tissue reduces the swelling, dulls the pain by numbing, and reduces bleeding. Acute injuries include ligament sprains, muscle strains, and severe bruising. Damaged tissue that is sensitive to the touch, red and warm is inflamed and would benefit from icing, not heat. Common injuries that you would ice include:
  • Tendonitis or bursitis
  • Carpel tunnel syndrome
  • Tennis elbow
  • Iliotibial band syndrome (pain from hip to knee)
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (front of the knee pain)
  • Shin splints
  • Plantar fasciitis

When not to use

People with sensory disorders that prevent them from feeling certain sensations should not use cold therapy at home because they may not be able to feel if the damage is being done. This includes diabetes, which can result in nerve damage and lessened sensitivity. You should not use cold therapy on stiff muscles or joints. Cold therapy should not be used if you have poor circulation.

When to heat/ Hot Pack?

Muscle spasms and trigger points (or knots) that occur with chronic pain (often found in neck and back pain) tend to respond well to heat. Hot Pack is an inexpensive and therapeutic way to relieve pain by relaxing muscle dysfunction. Muscle knots are likely the most common cause of unexplained aches and pains and can lead to recurrent headaches, neck cricks, and back pain. Also, they tend to complicate other injuries.

Heat should never be used on a “fresh” injury, one that is inflamed and warm to the touch. In fact, if you add heat to an inflamed area, it will cause more swelling and pain. However, it is definitely therapeutic for back pain and pain that is aggravated by stress. Heat facilitates circulation. More blood to an aggravated area helps wash away metabolic waste that is created by muscle dysfunction and delivers much-needed oxygen and nutrients to the affected muscles.

Local heating has been considered a downright cure for many issues historically. This is why natural hot springs are listed as therapeutic care. There are many ways to apply heat including:

Thermophore pads (produce a moist heat)
Full body heating: hot tubs, sauna, steam room, and hot shower

When not to use

There are certain cases where heat therapy should not be used. If the area in question is either bruised or swollen (or both), it may be better to use cold therapy. Heat therapy also shouldn’t be applied to an area with an open wound.

People with certain pre-existing conditions should not use heat therapy due to a higher risk of burns or complications due to heat application. These conditions include:
  • diabetes
  • dermatitis
  • vascular diseases
  • deep vein thrombosis
  • multiple sclerosis (MS)
If you have either heart disease or hypertension, ask your doctor before using heat therapy. If you are pregnant, check with your doctor before using saunas or hot tubs.

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