When To Treat An Injury With Heat Or Cold
When To Treat An Injury With Heat Or Cold
Heat and cold therapy have traditionally been used to cure a whole host of ailments. It’s inexpensive, not to mention a hugely effective and practical way of treating everything from pulled muscles to cramps, inflammation, to easing conditions such as arthritis. However, the most challenging part is knowing what’s appropriate for each condition or injury. Should you be using hot or cold therapy or perhaps even a combination of both? Well, as a very general rule of thumb, it’s generally accepted that ice is best used in cases of acute injury or pain as well as any localized swelling or inflammation. On the other hand, heat is best applied where there’s joint stiffness and muscular cramps or pain. Let’s delve in a little deeper and uncover when to treat and injury with heat or cold.
Using Heat Therapy
Heat therapy can be hugely beneficial and bring about comfort and relief, especially for sufferers of conditions such as arthritis. These types of conditions are aways worsened during the cold and damp winter months with symptoms generally being alleviated in warmer, drier climates. That’s because heat works to improve circulation and blood flow generally. When isolated to a particular area, through the use of a heat pad or even a hot water bottle, the temperature to the area is increased. This can have an immediate beneficial effect, soothing any discomfort while simultaneously increasing muscle flexibility. Heat is therefore highly therapeutic when it comes to delivering soothing and relaxing relief to tired and aching joints, and muscles and healing damaged tissue.
Type Of Heat Therapy
There are two distinct types of heat therapy utilized; moist or dry heat. In both instances, what you’re looking to achieve is a comfortable warmth as opposed to anything that is overly hot.
Dry heat sources include things like heating pads, dry heating packs as well as the use of saunas. You might also see this type of therapy referred to as “conducted heat.”
Moist heat sources include things like steamed towels, moist heating packs as well as hot baths. You might also see this type of therapy referred to as “convection heat.”
There are also professional heat therapies available, which include administering heat via ultrasound, which is particularly useful in the treatment of conditions such as tendonitis.
How To Use Heat Therapy
Heat therapy can be applied locally, regionally, or to the entire body. If you have stiff muscles, then heat is best applied locally to the area of stiffness. Small heated gel packs or an old fashioned hot water bottle are an excellent and convenient way to treat injuries locally. Regional treatment is better for wider spread pain and stiffness and can be administered via heat wraps or a large steamed towel. For full body treatment, a session in a sauna or a soak in a hot bath is recommended.
When Not To Use Heat Therapy
Never use heat therapy on an open wound. You may also find it’s better to treat bruising and swelling with cold as opposed to heat therapy. Some pre-existing medical conditions are advised not to use heat therapy as they could lead to additional complications. These include conditions such as dermatitis, diabetes, as well as deep vein thrombosis. You should also seek advice from a doctor if you suffer from heart disease, hypertension, or are currently pregnant, before taking a sauna or using a hot tub.
Applying Heat Therapy
Heat therapy can be applied regularly and for relatively long sessions. Mild stiffness can be eased with a 20-minute session of heat therapy, whereas for moderate or severe pain, a more extended session of up to two hours might be required.
Using Cold Therapy
You might also hear cold therapy referred to as cryotherapy, and it’s becoming increasingly more popular lately. Cold therapy works precisely the opposite of heat therapy in that it reduces, not increases, the flow of blood to a particular area. The benefit of this is that it can reduce inflammation and swelling around painful joints and tendons, which might be causing your discomfort. Cold therapy is hugely beneficial when it comes to temporarily treating painful conditions like trapped nerves.
Types Of Cold Therapy
There are numerous ways that cold therapy can be applied to an affected area. Just some of the most common treatment options include ice packs and frozen gel packs, ice baths as well as coolant sprays. Whole-body cold therapy chambers can also deliver tremendous benefits as well as therapies, including cryostretching and cryokinetics.
When Not To Use Cold Therapy
If you suffer from a sensory disorder, then cold therapy is not recommended. That’s because you may not feel certain sensations and could, therefore, end up doing even further damage. Diabetes patients may find that as a result of their condition, nerve damage occurs, which can lead to lessened sensitivity. Cold therapy is also inadvisable for anyone suffering from poor circulation and should not be used in the instance of stiff muscles or joints.
Applying Cold Therapy
It’s easy to apply cold therapy at home, but be careful to avoid directly applying ice to the skin as this in itself can cause further damage to skin and tissue. Also, wrap any ice pack or gel pack in something like a towel before applying to the affected area.
Cold therapy is best applied for shorter durations on a more regular basis than heat therapy. So as opposed to one twenty-minute session, you should use cold therapy for up to ten minutes several times a day. You may also find it’s advantageous to elevate the affected area for the duration of the treatment.
Potential Risks Of Both Hot And Cold Therapy
Always ensure that you are using warm, not hot heat; otherwise, you run the risk of burning the skin. If you are suffering from an infection, heat therapy might also increase the risk of that infection spreading further.
When it comes to using cold therapy, be careful not to apply directly to the skin or for too long a duration as this can lead to nerve, tissue, or skin damage.
Always be sure to consult your Doctor before beginning any form of home therapy, especially if you do suffer from a condition such as heart disease.
Final Conclusions On When To Treat An Injury With Heat Or Cold
If you are aware of when it’s appropriate to use heat or cold, you can significantly improve the treatment of any injury. If either treatment makes worsens the pain or discomfort, then immediately stop. Likewise, if neither therapy has delivered relief within a few days, then its recommendable to book an appointment with your Doctor to discuss other available treatment options.