Do you know when to use…Heat vs. Cold? A good rule of thumb is to apply COLD to an acute injury. These injuries are typically sudden and may be accompanied by a sharp pain. H EAT can play a role in relieving pain and discomfort for chronic conditions such as arthritis and muscular tension.
Using COLD may help:
Reduce swelling and muscle pains
Sooth after sports or workouts
Using HEAT may help:
Relax muscles and provide comfort for cramping
Soothe arthritic/aching joints
Relax tight backs
In our office we offer CorPak Hot and Cold packs. These are professional quality packs that hold therapeutic temperatures longer than other packs. The soft cover is gentle against the skin, hot or cold. It is still a good idea to use a towel or cloth between your skin and the pack to prevent burns.
The Science of ICE vs. HEAT
Acute injuries which happen with traumatic accidents like a fall, twisting movement or direct blow are immediately painful. Acute injuries result in bleeding, inflammation, swelling and sharp pain. Ice should be applied as soon as possible to cool the tissues, reduce metabolic rate and nerve conduction velocity and cause vasoconstriction of the surrounding blood vessels. Ice the area for 15- 20 minutes at a time. Ice should be reapplied regularly, every 1-3 hours for 24-48 hours after the injury. Be sure to use a towel or cloth between your skin and the ice pack to prevent burns
After 2-3 days post injury you can begin CONTRAST therapy where you alternate ICE and HEAT. Apply cold for 10 minutes, followed immediately by 10 minutes of heat. The alternation of ice and heat causes massive increases in blood flow to the area as the vasoconstriction caused by cooling reverses when heat is applied, resulting in an influx of blood to the damaged tissues. It is important to wait to make sure bleeding has stopped. Blood is vitally important in providing all of the energy and nutrients that the body needs for repair.
Chronic injuries usually do not present with a sudden onset. They tend to gradually build up over a period of days, weeks or longer and are often caused by overuse or biomechanical stress. A chronic injury can also be caused by an acute injury which fails to heal due to a lack of, or inappropriate treatment
Heat therapy should be applied for 15-20 minutes. Heat should be used to treat chronic injuries, to help relax tight, aching muscles and joints, increase elasticity of ligaments and tendons and increase the blood flow to the area. Heat therapy can also be used prior to exercise in chronic injuries to warm the muscles and increase flexibility. Be sure to use a towel or cloth between your skin and the hot pack to prevent burns.
The only time ice should be used on chronic injuries is after exercise, to reduce any residual swelling.