Hot and cold Therapy

What is Hot and Cold Therapy?

Heat and cold therapy is a recommended treatment for pain occurring due to muscle and joint damage. Using a hot water bottle or heated pads is common in hot therapy. On the other hand, cold therapy involves cold water bottles, pads cooled in the refrigerator, or cold water. Alternation of hot and cold therapy enhances blood flow to the site of pain or injury.

While cold treatment reduces the blood flow and inflammation, heat therapy enhances the blood flow and allows the muscles to relax. Applying hot or cold therapy alternatively helps in reducing pain related to exercises. The heat applied must be tolerable, and avoid applying ice on the skin directly. Alternating patterns of heat and ice therapy is also called contrasting therapy. Heat therapy is effective for treating chronic pain and cold therapy can be used to treat inflamed or swollen muscles and joints. Cold therapy is effective when applied within 48 hours of the injury.

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Types of Hot and Cold Therapy:

Applying heat to an inflamed part dilates the blood vessels, promotes blood flow, and relaxes the tight and sore muscles. With increased blood circulation, the body eliminates the lactic acid buildup occurring after some exercises. Heat therapy is more effective for treating chronic pain conditions. The types of heat therapy are:

  • Application of heating devices on the affected area, such as electric heating pads, hot compress, hot water bottles, or heat wrap.
  • Taking a hot or warm bath
  • Using heated wax treatment

The heat packs may be moist or dry. While dry heat application is permissible for up to eight hours, moist heat acts faster and can be applied for two hours. The application of heat should be for twenty minutes in each session. However, the patches or dry wraps can also be used for about eight hours.

Cold therapy reduces the flow of blood over to the affected area. Therefore, the inflammation slows down and reduces the risk of tissue damage and swelling. Besides, applying ice or chilled water numbs the damaged or sore tissues and retards the pain message transmission to the brain. Ice helps in treating inflamed or swollen muscles and joints and used is for treating sports injuries. The types of cold therapy are:

  • A cold compress or the application of old pack on the affected area for twenty minutes within every four to six hours.
  • Immersing or soaking the injured area in cold water but not freezing.
  • Massaging the injured area with ice cubes for about five minutes.
  • When massaging with ice, direct application is permissible as the cubes do not stay in one place.
  • Using frozen vegetables in a plastic bag or a dry cloth can be used for a cold compress.

Risks of Hot and Cold Therapy:

Hot therapy:

When applying heat therapy, you must utilize a warm temperature. With temperatures too hot, the skin over the affected area may burn. Moreover, using heat therapy on an infection allows it to spread faster. Heat pack application should typically last for twenty minutes in each session. When heat therapy does not reduce pain or discomfort, it needs to stop immediately.

Cold therapy:

The application of cold therapy for too long can damage the skin, tissues, or nerves. When a cold compress does not reduce pain or discomfort within 48 hours, it is necessary to consult with the doctor.

Benefits of Hot and Cold therapy:

When applying hot and cold therapy, it is essential to use hot and cold alternatively. It is used for recovering from pain occurring due to injury. The following are the benefits to note.

  • Reduction pain
  • Improved blood circulation and reduced swelling
  • Minimizing soreness in the muscles after exercises
  • Reducing inflammation
  • The increased energy level and recovery from exercises quickly
  • Improved alertness and heart rate
  • Enhanced mood

Hot and Cold Therapy used for which Conditions:

There are various situations when heat and ice therapy is effective. The application of cold compress works for bruised or swollen areas and reduces inflammation around the tendons and joints. Therefore, cold therapy works best for impact injuries, such as blows and knocks. Heat therapy is suitable for chronic pain conditions on the lower back or shoulders.

Who shouldn’t have Hot and Cold Therapy?

The things to remember when applying hot and cold therapy:

  • Cold therapy must not be used on stiff joints or muscles and people with poor blood circulation.
  • People with sensory disorders must not use both therapies without professional supervision as it can cause burns or damage.
  • Those suffering from vascular disease, deep vein thrombosis, diabetes, dermatitis must not use heat therapy.
  • Pregnant women with hypertension must seek medical advice before applying heat therapy.
  • No therapy should be applied on open wounds.

How to Prepare for Hot and Cold Therapy?

Before starting the therapy, it is essential to follow these steps.

  • Checking the electrical heating pad
  • Readying gel for microwaving and freezing
  • Taking out frozen vegetables
  • A towel to be soaked in hot and cold water.

Recovery: What happens after Hot and Cold Therapy?

While heat therapy increases blood circulation and allows the muscles to relax, cold therapy reduces blood flow and inflammation.

Related Conditions:

Heat therapy works for aching muscles due to exertion, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain. It is also useful for treating spasm pain during periods. Ice therapy also reduces bleeding in the tissues and retracts the effects of swelling due to injury.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can you combine heat and ice therapy?
Combining heat and ice therapy in alternating patterns restricts circulation and swelling and increases circulation in the affected area.
2. Which is better heat or ice therapy?
Heat works to reduce the stiffness of muscles, and cold reduces pain and swelling. Both are useful for treating pain and discomfort.

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