Should you use ice or heat for pain? Choosing the best option depends on what you’re treating. Explore cold therapy vs heat therapy here.

Stumbled hard on the ground after a rough game of basketball? Did you bump your head on a low door frame?

If you suffered from a recent physical injury, applying hot or cold therapy is often the type of first aid treatment to turn to. Unfortunately, not many understand which one you should apply.

Do you use cold therapy first or hot therapy? Which one treats pain and which one soothes your muscles?

It’s fine if you’re confused, we’re going to help you out. It all depends on what you’re treating.

Let’s dive right and start by understanding heat therapy:

The Basics of Heat Therapy

Heat therapy is often used for circulation. The warmth opens up the veins, allowing blood to flow better. This type of therapy helps relax tense muscles and boost flexibility.

There are two types of heat therapy: dry therapy and moist heat therapy. The prior uses heating pads or a sauna while the latter focuses on hot baths and steamed towels.

Keep in mind that you should never apply heat therapy without first testing the patient’s pain tolerance. You don’t want to apply a steamed towel that could cause further harm.

When to Use Heat Therapy

Suffering from a sprain or cramped, stiff muscles? You can help reduce the pain and soothe the muscles through heat therapy. Heat therapy also helps treat the pain and stiffness associated with tendonitis.

Don’t apply cold therapy to your back. Instead, use heat therapy to treat this type of pain. You can use it for the lower back and neck – a common practice seen in spas.

You can also apply heat therapy after using cold therapy. The latter deals with swelling and pain but applying heat therapy afterward can help your muscles relax.

When Not to Use Heat Therapy

Don’t apply heat therapy for bruises. When it comes to heat vs cold for swelling, the latter does a better job because it reduces blood flow.

You also shouldn’t use heat therapy for people suffering from diabetes, different vascular diseases, and dermatitis. The heat may cause irritations or complications. It’s best to consult a doctor first.

Make sure you don’t apply heat therapy directly on an open wound. Doing so could cause the wound to open further and this leads to further bleeding. Don’t confuse heat therapy with professional cauterizing.

The Basics of Cold Therapy

Cold therapy, also referred to as cryotherapy, focuses on reducing inflammation. It slows down blood flow and can help treat swelling as well as relieve pain from tissue damage. Ice therapy is more efficient if applied within 48 hours from the moment of injury.

This is why cryotherapy is an important procedure in treating sports injuries. If you’re into sports, it’s likely you’ve heard of RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This method helps reduce pain and swelling, allowing the athlete to get back in the game as quickly as possible.

You’ll find a wide variety of ice therapy methods: ice packs, the traditional cold compress, immersion in cold water, and the use of medical machines. A good example of a machine is the Ossur Cold Rush Cold Therapy System.

When to Use Cold Therapy

You can use cold therapy to numb the pain from gout flare-ups and strains. It’s also the recommended solution for recent injuries since it can help reduce swelling.

Use ice therapy as soon as someone suffers from physical injury. Turn to ice therapy if a person bumped into something, got punched, fell down, or got hit by a blunt object. This type of treatment can numb the pain and prevent inflammation, which means there’s a lower likelihood of sporting a dark bruise.

Cold therapy is also great when used in tandem with heat therapy. We’ll tackle that a bit more below.

When you apply ice therapy, don’t apply ice directly to the skin. This can numb the nerves, causing unintended nerve and tissue damage. Wrap the ice first before you apply it to avoid this type of issue.

When Not to Use Cold Therapy

You shouldn’t use ice therapy if you notice there’s a risk of muscle cramping. You also shouldn’t use cryotherapy if the person is already too cold or if they feel numb. Don’t apply cold therapy if the person has blistered skin because the extreme cold could cause the blisters to dry and pop.

Do not apply ice therapy directly to the spine or other areas of the back. The cold could numb the nerves and this may lead to severe health complications. Those cases require heat treatment instead.

Using Both Hot and Cold Therapy

There are times when it’s better to alternate between hot and cold therapy. Strains and sprains, for example, require both. Apply ice therapy first to reduce swelling and pain and then switch to hot therapy to bring back blood flow and cut down stiffness.

Alternating between the two therapies can also help deal with osteoarthritis and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

Got a headache? Treat it first with ice therapy to deal with the throbbing pain and then switch to heat therapy. The latter will soothe stiff areas around your head, particularly your neck, to deal with painful muscle spasms caused by migraines.

Choose the Right Therapy for Your Needs

When it comes to treating pain, cold therapy is the way to go. It numbs the nerves and muscles to take the pain away and it can constrict blood flow at the site of injury. This reduces swelling and that burning feeling most people associate with physical injuries.

However, you shouldn’t ignore heat therapy. It can help bring back blood flow and it’s the better option for treating back and neck pain.

But there are more medical treatments to discover. You can find out more right here; feel free to explore our other guides today and learn more helpful tips!

Share this article

Facebook Comments