Applying heat and ice are two of the most common non-invasive, inexpensive and non addictive pain relief therapies, however, many people are confused about when to apply heat vs ice. Although this isn’t a deadly mix up, there can be an increase in symptoms if you choose the wrong one.
Heat therapy opens blood vessels which in turn, increases blood flow to the area, bringing with it additional oxygen and nutrients. On the other hand, cold therapy narrows blood vessels which reduces blood flow to the area reducing fluid build up.
When to use Heat
Heat is best for treating chronic pain this means an injury that has laster longer than 6 weeks. Heat is best for stiff joints and chronic muscle pain, the additional nutrients that are brought to the area reduces the pain and stiffness in joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Heat can also decrease muscle spasms leading to increased range of motion and flexibility of tendons and ligaments.
Heat sources – electric or microwavable heating packs, how water bottle, gel packs, how water baths
How to use heat safely
- Wrap the heating device in a thin towel
- Do not apply for longer than 20 minutes
- Do not fall asleep on the heating device- this can cause burning
- Do not use heat on an open wound or stitches
- Do not apply heat if there is swelling or bruising
- Do not use heat if you have circulation problems or diabetes
When to use Cold
Cold treatments are best used right after an injury within the first 24 to 48 hours or if there is persistent swelling or inflammation. Cold is good for strains, sprains, bumps, bruises and minor burns.
Cold Sources – ice pack, gel pack, crushed ice mixed with cold water in a ziploc bag
How to use ice safely
- Apply ice for 10 minutes, remove for 10 minutes and apply for 10 minutes
- Never place ice directly on skin, wrap in a thin towel and dampen the surface
- Check the skin every 5 minutes to ensure there is no tissue damage (blistering)
- Have at least one hour between icing sessions
When in doubt, use ice!
Choosing the right temperature to use on your injury or pain can sometimes be confusing, if in doubt, consult one of our therapists for more advice! We would love to help treat your injuries, to book an appointment call 905-488-1223.
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