Using Hot and Cold Therapy for Pain Relief
Healing after an injury can be a long, uncomfortable process. While massage, ultrasound and physical therapy can be helpful, heat and cold therapy is a simple, inexpensive option to help promote healing and pain relief. The tricky part is knowing what situations call for heat, and which call for cold. This blog will provide insight into when ice and heat therapy can be used and which option works best for different types of injuries.
Warmth stimulates blood flow to the injured area, which can be a gentle suggestion to the body to continue the healing process. The increased blood circulation helps remove lactic acid, which is responsible for the burning pain after muscles are overused. Heat therapy relaxes the muscles to ease painful spasms and stiffness. For example, electric heating pads can be used to relieve discomfort from menstrual cramps, neck spasms, and low back pain. But, keep in mind that they should be set to “warm” rather than “hot” temperatures to prevent burning the skin. To help the heat penetrate the tissues more quickly, a damp washcloth can be placed between the heating pad and the skin. For best results, apply moist heat for 15 minutes at a time, up to three times a day.
Heat therapy precautions
Heat is not suitable for all types of injuries. Inflamed areas and infected wounds already have increased blood flow and they will not benefit from further warming. Additionally, heat should not be applied within the first 48-72 hours after an injury because it will cause the area to become more swollen and painful. You should also avoid using a heating pad if you have neuropathy from diabetes or any other condition that prevents you from accurately sensing temperatures. Finally, make sure to NEVER fall asleep while using a heating pad even if it has an auto shut-off function.
Cold therapy does the opposite of heat by constricting small blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the injured area. This reduces inflammation and swelling, which is helpful for fresh injuries like strains, sprains, and fractures. Cold therapy also acts as a local anesthetic to numb the area and reduce sensitivity to pain. As a result, a cold mask or wrap around the forehead may help reduce the pain of a migraine. Reusable ice wraps are ideal for cold therapy because they are flexible, lightweight, and leak-proof.
Cold therapy precautions
Ice packs should never be applied directly to the skin or the skin can freeze and develop frostbite. Instead, they should always be wrapped in a cloth or paper towel and left in place for no more than 20 minutes. As with heat therapy, ice packs should be avoided if you are unable to accurately sense temperature. Also make sure to consult your doctor before using cold therapy if you have peripheral vascular disease or impaired circulation. Lastly, cold therapy should not be used before exercising or other activities that could cause muscle cramping.
HomeCare Hospital Beds is ready to help people use heat and cold to relieve their pain and discomfort. Heating pads are available along with a wide variety of reusable ice wraps. People should always check with their doctor first before trying either hot or cold therapy.
**The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. If you are having a severe and sudden change in physical or mental health, please call 911, contact a local emergency facility or consult with your doctor. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider, and never disregard the advice given because of information you have received from our website.**