Heat vs. Cold Therapy
Whether a bruised knee from a fall or a pulled muscle from an enthusiastic leap out of bed, we have all suffered an injury somewhere along the line. But what should we do about it?
Depending upon who you ask the advice you may receive can vary hugely. Heat packs? Ice packs? Today we hope to give you some simple ways to remember which option to choose.
The key to answering the question is understanding the basics. Inflammation – the body’s natural response to injury. It can be recognised by redness, warmth, swelling and hindered movement. This can be obvious, particularly around large joints, but can also happen in a more subtle but equally painful way anywhere in the body.
Inflammation serves a purpose by aiding the healing process. The increased blood flow, which causes the redness and warmth, encourages the immune response and provides the area with the building blocks to repair damaged tissues. Unfortunately, the human body can over-react and the inflammation can become too great, resulting in sensitised nerves, disproportionate pain and the potential for long term tissue damage.
Choosing correctly between hot and cold packs can control inflammation and shorten your recovery time.
Ice packs and injury go together as perfectly as tea and toast. Using ice packs on an injured area for 15-20 minutes three times a day will prevent excess inflammation from building up. The ice reduces the inflammatory response by causing the blood vessels to narrow. We commonly advise our patients to use ice packs if they are suffering from a pinched nerve, disc bulge or joint sprain, particularly in the first 48-72 hours after injury.
If you have a sudden pain, whether you remember how it started or not, an icepack is the safer option. Ice will always reduce inflammation and the worst it can do is increase muscular stiffness – a far better situation than incorrectly using heat and causing even more inflammation.
Heat packs are a good solution for longer term pain, or for general aches. If your back is feeling tight again after a long day at work or your neck is stiff from a pesky draught when you were out and about, a heat pack can be your best friend. These longer term muscular aches are far less likely to have an excessive inflammatory response. In fact, they may need some help by promoting blood flow to the area. Heat packs do exactly this; they loosen muscles and encourage blood flow.
Heat packs are generally safe to use if you have tightness and aching rather than sharp pain, and only ever in the absence of a new injury.
We hope that this blog has helped you to understand a little more about hot and cold therapy. If you are ever in doubt, an ice pack is usually the safer option until you can talk to a healthcare professional. Unfortunately, in the last week we have seen an astounding SIX patients who have been given the wrong advice prior to coming to the clinic and have suffered as a result.
Please don’t fall into the trap of using a heat pack without being sure. Here at Cedar Tree we are always happy to talk with you over the phone or see you in clinic if you have any questions about which to use, never hesitate to give us a call.