Should I be Using Heat or Ice Therapy?

Almost all of us have a heat pack hidden away at home which comes out when Dad twists his back or little sister has a sore tummy. It’s likely that we’ve also got an ice pack – or at least a packet of frozen peas somewhere in the house for much the same reason.  Yes, heat or ice therapy are common ways to treat pain and injuries at home.

But, how do we know when to use heat (thermotherapy) and when to ice (cryotherapy)?

Choosing Between Heat or Ice Therapy

The body naturally warms up a part of the body when it suffers injury. Think of hitting your thumb with a hammer – the area becomes red and hot.

The reason for this is simple; the body is increasing blood flow to the affected area which brings fluids and healing materials to fix what is broken.

Heat therapy works in much the same way as it aims to warm up a particular area to increase blood flow. Muscle stiffness can be relieved in 15 – 30 minutes with heat therapy but remember to keep the heat pad or towel warm, and not hot.

Muscle pain and stiffness are often the results of stress and anxiety, so a warm pack on the neck or painful area, as well as a little rest and relaxation, may well do the trick. (This may also be the time for a long, warm bath)

Heat therapy should not be used if the area is bruised or very swollen, or if there is an open wound. People suffering from diabetes, any sort of vascular disease of MS should rather err on the side of caution and not use heat therapy.

Applying heat to an infected area can increase the spread of bacteria, and therefore should also be avoided.

Ice therapy or cryotherapy works the opposite way to heat therapy by decreasing blood flow to the affected area. This serves to reduce swelling and inflammation and can restrict nerve activity in the region – that’s the feeling of numbness that you get after applying an ice pack and is a natural and drug-free way of reducing pain.

Ice therapy, unlike heat therapy, should only be used for a few minutes at a time so as not to damage the tissue. In fact, people who suffer from sensory disorders or diabetics should be careful when using ice therapy – if at all.

In short, you would use ice for inflammation and swelling, and heat for stiffness or muscle pain. Another way of looking at it would be that ice is for new injuries and heat is for old, or deep injuries. It’s not always as simple as that though so we encourage you to seek professional advice.

If you find that neither heat nor ice is working, then it would be wise to see your doctor as there may be a more serious underlying problem. Dr Sanua aims to use the most natural treatment option for you as an individual, so book your consultation now if you’re suffering from pain or inflammation and let him get to the root of it.


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