You’re hot, then you’re cold
Most people are vaguely aware of hot and cold therapies as effective ways to treat common injuries, aches, and pains.
Let’s face it, we’ve all heard the well-meaning advice from family and friends to “grab a bag of frozen peas” or “warm up a wheat bag” when we roll an ankle or pull a muscle.
But which one should we opt for and when?
“It can be difficult to differentiate between the two, as they cross over for many injuries or conditions,” says physiotherapist, Michael Gilbert.
For general pain relief, you can opt for either/or, says Michael, but when it comes to specific injuries or conditions, it’s helpful to know your hot from your cold.
“For pain relief only, whichever therapy you prefer and find to be the most effective - stick with that,” he says.
For chronic conditions though, opt for heat therapy, as it can help to reduce muscle spasms, stiffness and pain while the heat is applied.
“It is believed that heat promotes blood flow and can help to relax the surrounding tissue,” Michael says.
“Heat can be effective for injuries or conditions that involve stiffness or muscle spasm.”
For example, if you’re experiencing stomach cramps or muscle spasms in your back, then heat can help to relax the tissue and provide relief.
On the other hand, if you’ve suffered an acute injury, cold therapy is the way to go, as it can help to numb the tissues, reduce swelling, and provide effective pain relief.
“There is some evidence to show that ice constricts blood vessels and reduces the circulation to the area,” says Michael.
Cold therapy can be effective in reducing the full extent of swelling in the early stages of recovery.
“Therefore, in severe injuries such as a bad ankle sprain, where too much swelling will affect ankle range of motion or in knee ligament injuries, where the quadricep muscles can become inhibited due to large amounts of swelling, (cold therapy) can be beneficial to maintain function.”
There are a few different ways heat and cold therapy can be applied. For heat, there’s infrared heat treatments and hot baths, while for cold therapy a cool or ice bath works well.
Heat and cold packs, such as our Neck Heat Packs and Wrap Around Heat Packs (which can be applied either hot or cold) are a convenient way to utilise hot and cold therapy, any time or place, as often as you require.
At the end of the day though, while some conditions are more responsive to hot or cold therapies, you’re unlikely do any damage, even if you do choose the less optimal option.
“It has been found that the temperature change has very little effect on the underlying muscles and joints,” says Michael.
“It is a personal choice, whichever therapy, hot or cold, you find most beneficial then you should go with that unless you are in one of the specific categories we outlined above.”
“As long as you are avoiding prolonged exposure and skin burns from severe cold or heat on the direct skin, the risk of tissue damage or exacerbating the injury is very low.”