05 Nov Is it hot or cold?
“Noooooo……………… don’t do that!”
My reaction to the times I hear of people injuring themselves by say, going over on their ankle or injuries resulting in the hurt area burning red with inflammation, and saying they have applied heat to soothe the injury.
Please do not apply heat to an inflamed area of skin, the last thing you want to do is send a rush of blood to an injury which is already swollen.
So, when is it best to use heat therapy and when is it best to use cold therapy?
There are always exceptions to the rule but generally if you have sustained an injury say, for example, a sprained ankle, and it is warm to the touch and inflamed applying an ice pack within the first 24-48 hours will be more effective than heat. Ice will help to numb the area and reduce swelling and help to numb the pain receptors.
When applying ice to an injured area make sure the ice is wrapped in something like a thin cloth or bag, do not apply directly to the skin or you will risk frostbite. Also, only apply for short periods of time.
You will often see professional athletes take an ice bath shortly after intense sporting activity. This is to reduce muscle soreness. The best way to deal with an acute injury is to follow the RICE principle of Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation.
So when do you apply heat? We all know how comforting it feels to be warm, a nice hot bath followed by wrapping yourself in a lovely warm towel or sitting in front of a roaring fire. Warmth is a good relaxer for both mind and body and it is also good for relieving tension and muscle aches and pains as it acts a relaxer for the muscles. So, if you have ongoing muscle pain heat may well help to ease the pain and give you some comfort. I’m talking about the kind of pain you get from working at a computer all day and your neck and shoulders feel stiff. Or, if you have been on your feet all day or driving for long distances.
When applying heat, make sure it is not too hot, warmth is the key, rather than extreme heat otherwise you will send the pain receptors into overdrive.
The above, is a general guide, i.e. cold therapy for acute injuries or pain or if an area is inflamed or swollen and heat for muscle aches and pains and stiffness and for tension relief. There will always be times when caution is required, for example, certain medical conditions may mean that a person’s pain receptors are not as responsive as they should be. Also, if you are in extreme pain then seek medical advice before applying any treatments to ensure your safety.
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