Know When to Use Heat or Ice for Your Pain

Source: WebMD, Healthline

Injuries typically call for temperature therapy in their treatment regimens, but whether to use heat or ice is often a confusing question. Temperature therapy is low cost, simple, comforting, and essentially can be performed anywhere, making it an excellent complementary treatment to other medicines or alternative therapies. So, how does one make the determination as to use heat treatment versus cold treatment? In general, cold therapy should be used for acute injuries that result in swelling and inflammation.

When to Use Cold Therapy

Cold therapy is the simplest and most common treatment option, which can often be performed with items already in your freezer. Treatments include ice packs (even bags of frozen vegetables), frozen gel packs, ice baths, or commercially available coolant sprays. More intense and less common cold therapy options include whole-body cold therapy chambers, cryostretching, and cryokinetics. All of the aforementioned treatments work via a reduction of blood flow to the region being iced, or treated. This can aid in significantly reducing the swelling and inflammation that can contribute to pain, specifically around regions with tendons and joints. In addition, cold therapy can also reduce nerve activity for the short term which also aids in pain reduction. Cold therapy should not be used on stiff joints and muscles or if you have poor circulation.

When to Use Heat Therapy

Heat therapy is also a very common tool for relieving pain, and is often used in conjunction with cold therapy. Treatments are classified as either dry heat or moist heat. In terms of dry heat, one can use a dry heating pack, heating pad, or even a sauna. Regarding moist heat treatments, one can use hot baths, moist heating packs, or even steamed towels. Moist heat is thought to be more effective, while requiring shorter application times. During heat applications, you can opt to use small scale local or regional treatments, or a full body treatment. Naturally, local and regional treatments are recommended for small pain zones or widespread pain and stiffness. Please note that heat therapy is not recommended for people with the following conditions due to complications with heat application: multiple sclerosis (MS), deep vein thrombosis, vascular diseases, dermatitis, and diabetes.

As always, talk to your doctor or pain specialist to determine what treatment regimen is best for you.