Applying hot and cold therapy to an injury is usually one of the easiest treatment options available. However, one of those may be better than the other, depending on the situation. Here’s a quick rundown so you know exactly what to do the next time you’ve got an ache or pain and can treat the injury or pain without making things any worse.
Hot and cold therapy: A starting guide
Even those of us who live in desert climates are not immune from the chill of winter weather. It can permeate your bones and drive you indoors for several months straight. It is completely normal to seek warmth as the days get shorter.
Hot and cold therapy has been a mainstay for treating minor sports injuries. The idea is that applying cold, or ice, to an injury immediately after it occurs can reduce swelling and inflammation. Then, once the initial healing has begun, heat can be applied to soothe soreness and restore a better range of motion.
In the winter months hot therapy can seem like more than just a helpful tip for sore and aching muscles. Who doesn’t want to curl up with a hot water bottle when the temperatures dip below freezing? However, there are some things to keep in mind when using hot therapy in cold weather.
To avoid unnecessary complications from the incorrect use of hot and cold therapy, here are a few things you should consider.
How to use cold therapy
Use ice to reduce swelling and lessen pain and inflammation, for example, after an acute injury such as an ankle sprain. In some cases, cold therapy can be used to manage chronic injuries, such as shin splints, that reoccur with certain activities.
Ice actually causes your blood vessels to narrow, which helps to bring down swelling, but also minimizes pain and limits any bleeding that could be occurring internally in the injury area.
Methods of applying cold to an aching area include placing an ice pack on the sore area. Be sure to wrap the ice pack in a towel to avoid irritating your skin.
Wetting a towel with cold water and then placing ice inside to keep the cloth cold also makes an effective cold pack. Ice stuffed into a sealable, plastic bag and placed inside a towel could work, as could a frozen back of vegetables if you’re really in a pinch. You can also ice the area three times each day for 15 minutes. If you’ve just experienced an injury, ice every two or three hours for about three days.
How to use cold therapy safely
Believe it or not, there are wrong ways to ice an injury. Here are some tips for apply ice the right way to keep the pain and damage under control.
- Apply an ice pack to the injury within 48 hours.
- Never apply ice directly; if you don’t have a pack, wrap ice cubes in a thin towel.
- Apply the ice pack for only 10 minutes at a time.
- If using cold therapy for a chronic injury, always do so after the activity, never before.
How to use hot therapy
Applying heat to the body opens up the blood vessels and increases blood flow. This helps supply oxygen to painful areas including joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Using heat can also reduce muscle spasms and improve range of motion issues. Heat is a great non-medical treatment for painful conditions or injuries.
Hot therapy is perfect for cold winter days and sore muscles. Winter sports, outdoor maintenance, and other activities can lead to pain and discomfort. Applying heat in the correct ways to these conditions will help speed recovery and provide comfort from the cold.
How to use hot therapy safely
It is important to know what to do when applying hot therapy and how to do it to avoid further injuries.
The heat source can be either dry or moist. Dry heat sources, such as an electric heating pad, may dry the skin while applying moist heat can get better penetration into the affected area. Electric heating pads, microwavable pads, hot water bottles, gel packs, warm towels, and hot water baths are all possible methods for applying hot therapy.
It is important to make sure the heat source is not too hot and can be main