Should I Use Cold or Heat Therapy to Treat an Injury?

Sore muscles, sprained ankles, tooth aches – pain and injury may come in many forms. When you’re looking for fast, cheap, and easy relief, you may ask yourself: Should I use cold or heat therapy to treat an injury? 

The answer depends on the site and cause of the injury. Let’s take a closer look at both options and discuss when they would be appropriate. 

Heat Therapy

The main benefit of heat therapy is to relax the muscles surrounding an injury. 

The warmth serves to loosen the tissues under the skin and stimulate blood flow to the area. This improves flexibility and range of motion, which makes it especially helpful for pain caused by exercise, arthritis, or sleeping in an awkward position. 

You can use heat therapy in the form of a heated pack, hot compresses, or a warm bath. It is more effective when used in tandem with light stretching. Always use a towel or sheet between the hot object and your skin to prevent burning. 

Cold Therapy

Cold therapy has the opposite effect than heat therapy, and therefore should be used with a different purpose in mind. 

Putting coldness on the skin slows down blood flow, which serves to decrease swelling and reduce painful inflammation. 

This means it is most effective right after an acute injury, such as a sprain or fracture. Reducing the swelling can help your body begin the healing process a little easier. It is also helpful for reducing those acute, annoying pains while awaiting treatment, such as a toothache.  

Cold therapy can be achieved with an ice or gel pack from the freezer (frozen veggies also work), an ice bath, or cold wrap. Once again, you should always use a towel or sheet between the cold object and your skin. 

Should I Alternate Heat and Cold? 

Because cold therapy is most effective right after an injury occurs, your doctor might recommend cold therapy for the first 72 hours or so and heat therapy after that. 

This will reduce the swelling and stimulate healing at the right pace. 

Alternating between heat and cold may be necessary if the injury is persistently painful. However, be sure not to switch directly from one to the other, as this can be counter-intuitive. 

Instead, wait about an hour between each therapy. Do not use heat or cold therapy for longer than 15-20 minutes at a time. 

Wellness & Chiropractic Services in Frederick, MD

Heat and cold therapies are useful for short-term relief, but for a long-term, holistic solution to pain, chiropractic care is the best option. For residents of Frederick, Maryland, and beyond, Lipinski Chiropractic can help! We can treat a variety of injuries and tensions throughout the body to give you lasting relief. Call now to learn more!