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When to Use Cold or Hot Treatment for an Injury

Category: Blog, Uncategorized

We see plenty of hurting folks in our New York City clinic, so we’re pretty familiar with pain. We know that when you’re in pain – whether from a fresh injury or a long-term issue – you want relief, and you want it quickly. Both cold therapy and hot therapy are useful, but they play different roles in treatment. Read on to find out when and how to use each type of therapy.

Cold Therapy

When to Use It

Cold therapy is good for new injuries. “New” can refer to anything that’s six weeks old or less, but it’s especially effective in the first 48 hours after an injury, to decrease pain and swelling.

Cold packs should be used for acute injuries, such as pulled muscles, bursitis, sprains, and tendinitis. They can also help relieve headaches, particularly the throbbing type.

In addition, cold therapy can be useful for muscle soreness.

How It Works

Cold packs constrict blood vessels, reducing blood flow and chemical reactions in the area. Thus, the swelling and inflammation that occurs after an injury are able to decrease.

Applying a cold pack will also numb the area. When you’re in pain, numbness provides much-appreciated relief.

How to Use It

For health and wellness after an injury, we recommend applying cold packs to the affected area on and off throughout the day. Leave the ice on for about 20 minutes at a time. Then, reapply within the next couple of hours.

Never allow ice to sit on your skin directly. Instead, wrap an ice pack in a light towel before applying it to your injury


Hot Therapy

When to Use It

Chronic injuries, including general arthritis discomfort and chronic back pain, benefit from hot therapy. Heat can be used to treat pain that lingers after sprains and other injuries; just don’t use it until the inflammation stage is over. Heat therapy is also useful on muscle tension and tightness areas. Finally, put heat on for a headache that is triggered by muscle spasms.

How It Works

Heat relaxes joints and muscles. This provides relief for both stiffness and spasms.

Treating with heat increases blood flow to the affected area. In fact, this is why you should not use hot therapy on fresh injuries as it can cause extra inflammation, which is detrimental to recovery.

How to Use It

Again protect your skin by using a towel between yourself and the heating pad. You can also use a dampen towel of warm water in place of a heating pad.

Leave the heat on the injury for about 20 minutes. Do not reapply, until the spot has had time to completely cool and return to normal skin tone (no redness).

For more help relieving your acute or chronic pain, visit us in our New York City multidisciplinary clinic. In the meantime, use cold and heat therapy to find some relief for your symptoms. Remember that cold is best for new injuries, and heat works for chronic ones.

Call us at (212) 737-9000 for more info!