For thousands of years we have treated all kinds of ailments that cause us pain with hot and cold therapies. Everything from arthritis to a pulled neck muscle to a sore tooth. Hot and cold therapies can be very effective due to the ease of application and affordability. Knowing whether to use heat or cold is the part that is tricky. In some cases a single professional treatment will combine both hot and cold.
Generally the use of ice is for acute injuries or pain, like when you sprain your ankle or drop a weight on your foot. Heat tends to be for ongoing muscle pain or stiffness like waking up with a wonky neck or period pain.
Heat therapy by use of heat pads and similar, improve the circulation and blood flow to a particular area by increasing temperature. Increasing the temperature of the afflicted area can soothe discomfort and increase muscle flexibility, helping relax and soothe muscles and heal damaged tissue. Full body heat therapy like infrared saunas can aid the body generally to relax, improve mobility and increase our recovery rate prior to or after an exerting activity ie pre and post competition.
It has also been found that hot baths, heated spas and steam towels can aid in the relief of symptoms of some chronic pain ailments like tendonitis, arthritis ect.
Types of heat therapies include:
•gel heat packs
•hot stone massage
To name a few.
For minor stiffness or tension, localised heat around 15 to 20 minutes can provide relief whereas moderate to server pain will need long and larger areas of heating up to 2 hours.
Heat therapy aids with so many ailments but there are times when it should not be used: If the area is bruised and/or swollen, it may be better to use cold therapy.
Heat therapy also should not be applied to an area with an open wound.
People with certain pre-existing conditions should not use heat therapy due to higher risk of burns or complications due to heat application. These conditions include:
•deep vein thrombosis
•multiple sclerosis (MS)
If you have either heart disease or high blood pressure, ask your doctor before using heat therapy.
If you are pregnant, check with your doctor before using saunas or hot tubs.
Cold therapy on the other hand works by reducing blood flow to a particular area, which can significantly reduce inflammation and swelling that causes pain, especially around a joint or a tendon. It can temporarily reduce nerve activity, which can also relieve pain.
Cold therapies include
•ice packs or frozen gel packs
•coolant sprays and gels
•whole-body cold therapy chambers
For home treatment, apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel or ice bath to the affected area. You should never apply a frozen item directly to the skin, as it can cause damage to the skin and tissues.
Apply cold treatment as soon as possible after an injury. Use cold therapy for short periods of time, several times a day. Ten to 15 minutes is fine, and no more than 20 minutes of cold therapy should be used at a time to prevent nerve, tissue, and skin damage. You can elevate the affected area for best results.
Full body cold treatments can be used to aid in repairing soft tissue damage and has been shown to aid people suffering with nerve pain and aid with weight loss efforts.
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 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. If either hot or cold therapies are not working to give you relief or even making the pain, swelling or discomfort worse, this should go without saying but consult your doctor. It’s important to know when to treat yourself and when a medical professional would be the best option.