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Is Ice Or Heat Better For Pain Relief?

Cold therapy and heat therapy have both been used for centuries to help treat everything from injuries to muscle stiffness.

Whether you use ice or heat for pain depends on what is causing the pain. Neither is ideal for all types of pain. Each form of treatment has its own uses. The two can also be alternated as well.

It’s simply not possible to get through life without tearing a ligament, straining a muscle, suffering from knee pain, being injured in some way, suffering a headache, etc. When experiencing any type of pain, it’s important to know whether heat, ice, or a combination of both would provide the relief you need.

Ice Treatments

For injuries, ice treatments usually win out – especially if there is inflammation involved. The cold temperature reduces the amount of blood flowing to the injured area and helps bring down the swelling.

Products include icy gel packs, Vapocoolant sprays, ice baths, Cryocuff machines, etc.

Here are some of the problems for which cold therapy is ideal

  • Headaches – Ice should be used to numb throbbing head pain.
  • Strains (such as groin strain, hamstring muscles strain, calf muscle strain, back strain) – Ice helps to ease the inflammation of injured tendons or pulled muscles.
  • Flare-ups of gout – The use of cold therapy helps to calm the flare-ups and numb the pain of chronic, inflammatory arthritis in areas such as the big toe, ankle, wrist, instep, etc.
  • Tendinitis – For acute irritation after physical activities, ice numbs the pain and eases the inflammation.

Heat Therapy

Also called thermotherapy, this type of treatment comes in many forms: hot cloth, saunas, electric heating units, FIR heat therapy wraps, heating blankets, and pads. Heating pads are the most commonly used products, as they are easy to use, affordable and convenient.

Heat treatment can be applied as dry heat or moist heat.

Thermotherapy can be used to help treat the following

  • Arthritis – When worn away cartilage causes chronic joint and muscle stiffness, moist heat provides relief. It helps to relax the tight muscles in areas such as the knees, elbows, and shoulders.
  • Neck spasms – Moist heat provides relief to the pain and helps to keep the neck relaxed.
  • Strains – AFTER the inflammation problem is taken care of with ice therapy, heat can then be applied to ease the stiffness.
  • Tendinosis – After swelling goes down, heat can be used to reduce chronic stiffness and soreness in tendons attached to joints.
  • Exercise – if you tend to feel achy after a workout, you might be able to prevent some of that achiness by soaking in a warm bath or taking a hot shower before you begin.

Use Caution

Whether you use ice therapy or heat therapy, you don’t want to overdo it. It’s normal for your skin to look a little red after using either type of therapy. However, you need to rest and let the redness go away before you applying a new ice pack or reusing the electrical heat pack or blanket. Also, as warm and comfortable as it might be at first, never fall asleep with a heating blanket on.

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following after using ice or heat treatment(s): swelling, hives, blisters, or a dark red colour that won’t go away, even after you stopped the treatment.