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Hot And Cold Therapy - Know The Ways It Can Help Treating Pain!

Written and reviewed by
Dr. Ruchi Gupta 88% (79 ratings)
MD - Anaesthesiology, DNB, MBBS, Diploma In Aesthetic Medicine
Pain Management Specialist, Amritsar  •  33 years experience
Hot And Cold Therapy - Know The Ways It Can Help Treating Pain!

Ice packs and heating pads are the way to go when in pain. Treating pain with hot and cold therapy can be very effective for several conditions or injuries and easily affordable as well. However, the tricky part can be deciding when to apply hot and when to apply cold. At times, the therapy can include both the types.

As a general rule of thumb, ice is used for acute injuries or pain with characteristics of swelling or inflammation and heat is used for easing muscle pain or stiffness. Ultimately, both the therapies work well for treating pain.

How does heat and cold therapy relieve pain?
Both the therapies stimulate the body’s healing response. Heat therapy dilates the blood vessels, promotes blood circulation and alleviates muscle spasms. Additionally, it also alters the sensation of pain. Heat therapy employs heating pads or heating lamps for direct application of heat and also moist heat like warm baths, heated wash cloths or heated pads.

On the other hand, cold therapy constricts the blood vessels, reduces swelling and numbs any deep pain. At first, applying ice may be uncomfortable, but it helps by soothing acute pain. Cold therapy employs ice packs, coolant sprays, ice bath and also cryo-stretching, which uses cold to reduce muscle spasms during stretching.

  1. Using heat and ice. Whether you are using a hot pack or a cold therapy, ensure you apply the right temperature.
  2. When applying heat, it should not be too hot or it may lead to burns or scalds. The skin must be checked at regular intervals. Heat should not be applied to a new injury as it can increase bleeding around the injured area and make it worse. Heat is helpful for the following problems:

    1. Stiff or aching muscles due to strenuous activity or overexertion
    2. Chronic pain conditions of arthritis and fibromyalgia
    3. Muscle spasms or cramping pains
  3. Ice has been used for a long time to treat soft tissue injuries, where there is swelling. It is used to manage pain in the short term and can also be used on a long term basis to treat pain. Cold therapy is helpful in the following ways:
    1. Reduces bleeding or further infection
    2. Prevents and alleviates swelling or inflammation
    3. Reduces muscle spasm and pain
    4. Numbs the area affected and reduces deep pain by limiting the effects of swelling
  4. Precautions when using ice and heat
    1. Over skin areas that are in poor conditions
    2. Sensitive areas
    3. Over areas with poor blood circulation
    4. Diabetes
    5. Presence of any infection. If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can consult a Pain Management Specialist.
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