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Hot & Cold Therapy - How It Can Treat Pain?

MD-Anesthesiology, MBBS , F.I.PM, Fellow in Endoscopic Spine Surgery
Pain Management Specialist, Ahmedabad  •  12 years experience
Hot & Cold Therapy - How It Can Treat Pain?

Hot and Cold therapy is one of the most popular home remedies for any kind of joint pain or muscle sprain. In some cases applying heat therapy and cold therapy alternatively, can help relieve the pain while for others only one form of therapy is necessary. To understand what to use when, one should first understand the effect of heat and cooling on the body.

Applying a heat pack or immersing the affected limb in hot water improves blood circulation and makes the muscles more flexible. Thus, it can help relax a muscle and fasten the healing of damaged tissues. On the other hand, cold therapy or cryotherapy reduces blood flow to the affected site. This helps relieve inflammation and pain caused by it. It can also make the area feel numb by reducing nerve activity temporarily.

Types of Heat Therapy
Heat therapy can be categorized as dry heat and moist heat. Dry heat involves using saunas or dry heating packs to relieve pain. This is also known as conducted heat therapy. As the name suggests, moist heat involves the use of steamed towels, hot baths and moist heating packs. This is also known as convection heat therapy. Moist heat is usually considered more effective than dry heat.

Types of Cold Therapy
Cold therapy may be applied to a part of the body or to the entire body. This includes ice packs, coolant sprays, ice baths, ice massages and whole body, cold therapy chambers.

How to use heat and cold therapy?
The sooner heat and cold therapy is given to a person, the faster they will recover from their pains. Heat therapy can be given to a person for extended periods of time but when giving cold therapy, a person should not be exposed to a cold pack or ice bath for more than 10-15 minutes. Care should also be taken no to apply ice or a frozen pack directly on the skin as it can damage the skin and nerves.

When not to use Heat Therapy?
If the injury site is swollen or bruised, cold therapy is better than heat therapy. Heat therapy should also not be applied to an open wound. People suffering from conditions such as diabetes, dermatitis, deep vein thrombosis, vascular diseases and multiple sclerosis should also avoid heat therapy as these conditions can increase the risk of burns and other such complications. Pregnant women should also consult a doctor before using a hot tub or sauna.

When not to use Cold Therapy?
Cold therapy is avoidable for treating stiff joints and muscles. People suffering from poor circulation and sensory disorders should also avoid using cold therapy without a doctor’s supervision. If you wish to discuss any specific problem, you can consult a pain management specialist.

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