How and When to Use Heat or Cold Therapy

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Posted on 29 September 2018

If you’ve had a sporting injury before, or a work-related ache, the chances are that you’ve been told to apply ice or heat therapy for pain relief. While both of these methods are used to achieve the same goal, this doesn’t mean they should be used interchangeably; both forms have their own benefits and should be used at specific times in specific scenarios. In this article, we’ll be looking at just what those scenarios are.

Heat Therapy

When we expose parts of our bodies to heat, it opens up the blood vessels, increasing the blood flow. This, in turn, brings oxygen and other nutrients to that particular area. As a result, joint pain is reduced and sore muscles, tendons and ligaments are relaxed. Heat therapy can also be used to minimise painful muscle spasms and improve the range of motion in a joint.

How to apply heat therapy

Generally, you can use both wet and dry sources of heat. While dry heat sources may also dry out the skin, they will also be able to better maintain a consistent temperature. Wet heat sources, on the other hand, will struggle to maintain a consistent temperature, but the moist heat will be able to penetrate the skin better for deeper aches.

TIP 1: Heat should never be applied directly to the skin. Instead, always wrap any heat therapy pack in a thin, protective towel.

TIP 2: Do not use heat therapy if the area is swollen – use cold therapy first.


Cold Therapy

When exposed to cold, your body reacts in the opposite way: cold slows down the blood flow to an injury. Cold therapy is used to reduce pain and swelling in the affected area and is typically used immediately after an injury has occurred to reduce inflammation. Once the swelling has subsided, this is when heat therapy should come in, quelling any remaining aches and pains.

How to apply cold therapy

Usually, cold therapy is applied with ice or gel packs. However, in DIY scenarios, things like cold water and frozen vegetables can also be used – provided it’s not an open wound, that is. Ideally, cold therapy should be used 24 to 48 hours after the initial injury and is particularly effective on strains, sprains and bruises.

TIP 1: The application of cold therapy should never be for longer than 20 minutes, so as to not completely restrict the blood flow.

TIP 2: Never use heat therapy on open wounds, this will increase the risk of bleeding.

Here at Thorne Road Chiropractic Clinic, we do all we can to remedy a range of ailments through the skilled and effective spinal manipulation of backs and necks. As a result of the skill and know-how of our fully trained, highly knowledgeable chiropractors, our clients notice quick and often life-changing improvements in their overall health for the long-term. If you think that our services could have a positive impact on your life, then get in touch with us today.

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