Hot and Cold Therapy- Which one should you use?PDF VERSION
If used correctly following an injury or when beginning a rehabilitation or exercise program, hot and cold can help to reduce pain, assist with tissue healing, control swelling and increase flexibility. If used incorrectly however, they can worsen an injury or slow recovery times.
Examples: cold gel packs, ice cubes, frozen veggies, cold cloths
When a cooling agent is applied to the skin blood vessels narrow and blood flow is restricted. This can help to reduce swelling and inflammation. As skin temperature decreases, there will be an analgesic or numbing effect that plays an important role in management of pain.
Cold is best applied 24-48 hours post injury or for pain/spasm management following a bout of exercise or dance class. It is usually recommended to apply cold for 10-15 minutes each application. Applying cold for longer than 15 minutes can result in tissue damage and worsen the state of an injury.
Examples: heating pads, hot water bottles, gel packs, hot towels
Heat will help to dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow, delivering nutrients and oxygen to cells in the area being heated. This helps to aid in the removal of cell waste and promotes healing.
Heat should be avoided during the early stages of an injury when swelling is present and the area is warm to the touch. Therapeutic heat is recommended during the chronic phase of an injury as well as prior to exercise in order to decrease muscle tension and increase flexibility and joint range of motion.
No matter what type of heat is used, ensure you have several layers of towels to ensure that skin irritation or burns do not occur. Hot packs should generally be applied 15-20 minutes over the affected area with visual inspection every 5 minutes to ensure burning and/or irritation is not occurring.
Use caution when engaging in activities shortly after applying heat or cold since both may affect muscle and nerve performance as well as your ability to perceive pain or determine your normal limits! Certain medical conditions and injuries may not respond well to the use of cold and/or heat therapy. If you have questions contact a physiotherapist!
Prepared by: Emma Jack, BSc(HKin), MSc(PT), Sport Diploma
Registered Physiotherapist at ReActive Physiotherapy
3-655 Fanshawe Park Road West, London, ON