Most people have heard that applying ice or heat to an injury or ache can help relieve pain and swelling. How do you know which option to use and for how long? While some people recommend alternating between hot and cold treatments, physical therapy Seattle suggests there are reasons to use one or the other.
Heat therapy improves blood flow to the area under the heat source. Therapists recommend it for stiffness and muscle pain. Cold therapy reduces inflammation and is best for acute pain and injuries. Even with these definitions, it is still difficult to know what situations call for which treatment or both.
Why Does Ice and Heat Treatment Work?
Ice therapy or cryotherapy works by reducing the blood flow to the injury or trauma site. The reduced blood flow helps to ease swelling and inflammation, which are responsible for pain. Also, the cold temperature can limit nerve activity in the affected region, helping to relieve pain temporarily.
The increased temperature of heat therapy causes blood to move through the area quickly. Heat therapy can increase muscle flexibility, heal damaged tissues, and soothe discomfort when applied correctly.
Working with physical therapy near me can help you determine the right time to use each therapeutic method. That said, some people should avoid heat therapy due to possible complications. People with some pre-existing conditions are at a higher risk of burns. The conditions include:
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Vascular disease
How To Use Ice and Heat Treatment
Patients have access to several forms of cold therapy. Some of the more popular options include:
- Coolant sprays
- Ice baths
- Ice packs
- Ice massage
Depending on the injury and situation, patients also have some less common and more specialized options. The options that some PT clinics near me offer include:
- Whole-body cold therapy chambers
For typical home treatment, you can use an ice pack wrapped in a towel. You never want to apply ice or frozen items directly to the skin because it can cause injuries and damage the skin. Apply the wrapped ice pack to the affected area several times daily for no more than 20 minutes at a time.
Patients also have access to a couple of forms of heat therapy: dry heat and moist heat. Dry heat includes heating pads, packs, or even saunas. Moist heat includes steamed towels or hot baths. Professional forms of heat therapy include ultrasound, which is often used to treat tendonitis.
For home treatment, you must choose whether you need local, regional, or whole-body treatment. You can use a hot water bottle or heated gel pack for localized treatments. A large heating pad or wrap works best for a more regional area. Finally, the best option is a sauna or bath if you want to apply heat to the whole body.
Ice and heat are excellent options for treating injuries. Heat helps soothe the muscles by increasing blood flow, and cold treatments help reduce inflammation. Contact a local physical therapist if you want more information about working with hot and cold therapies.