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Cold Versus Heat Therapy – Which Should I Use?

Heat therapy and cold therapy are the two most commonly used types of non-invasive pain-relief therapies for joint and muscle pain. What some people don’t realize is that the two therapies are not interchangeable. Each has its use for specific types of problems.

Using heat therapy on a fresh, inflamed injury instead of an ice pack WILL aggravate the problem and only make the pain worse. Using an ice pack on an area affected by muscle strain is not a wise idea, either.

Here is an overview of each type of treatment and what you should be using it for.

Cold Therapy

There is a reason why ice packs are applied to injuries: the cold helps reduce inflammation. When there is swelling, blood flow to the injury must be slowed down in order to bring down the swelling and reduce the pain. Ice therapy is also recommended for breaks or tears that may occur during intense physical activity, in areas such as the shoulder, wrist, upper back, elbow, hip, knee, etc.

The sooner after an injury you use cold therapy, the better. It’s ideal to use an ice pack or any other type of cold treatment as often as possible for 48 hours after the injury, in fifteen to twenty minute intervals.

Active cold compression is also used in conjunction with a sensible medication strategy to help patients recover from surgery. Without proper preparation and treatment, recovering from any type of surgery can be a long process.

Benefits Of Cold Therapy

  • Decreases the amount of recovery time for injuries
  • Reduces the amount of pain you would feel after receiving an injury
  • When applied on the affected area right after injury, the risk of cell death is limited. This helps to prevent long-term problems

Heat Therapy

You should be using heat therapy to deal with chronic pain that does not involve an injury. When you need pain management due to stiff joints, aching joints, back spasms, etc… heating therapy products are ideal. This is because the warmth increases blood flow and oxygen to the affected area to help relieve the pain.

Heat treatments come in two varieties: moist and dry. If you have dry skin, moist heat would probably be the better option, as dry heat may damage skin tissue and make your skin even worse. Moist heat tends to penetrate better.

However, some patients find that dry heat feels better on the skin and is easier to apply. Moist heat comes in forms such as steamed towels, hot baths, moist heating packs, etc. Consult a medical professional if you are unsure which type to use.

Benefits of Heat Therapy

  • Increases blood flow to the affected area when applied properly.
  • Helps to reduce problems such as muscle spasms strained lower back.
  • Promotes the body’s capacity to eliminate toxins in a natural way.
  • Relieves stiff joints by increasing lubrication (synovial fluid), which is partly reliant on the amount of blood that reaches the joints.

When used appropriately, both cold and heat therapy offer many benefits. You just need to make sure that you are using the right type of therapy for your problem. Also, it’s important to use a quality product and not a cheap one.

Read more on heat therapy benefits here