Heat or cold?

When pain starts, have you considered using heat or cold to help with your recovery?

A lot of people automatically reach for heat, which has been shown to offer a therapeutic effect like having a hug, however sometimes cold is much more suitable for the job.

There are no set rules although these generalised guidelines can help advise you in trying these options at home. Before using either of these, if you have any on going medical concerns or if any symptoms get worse, consult a healthcare professional.

For injuries, cold can really help bring down swelling and is the best choice for the first 24-48 hours. Cold is also the recommended long term go to option for any issues with nerves and disc pain as this will also provide a temporary numbing feeling. There is some debate around using cold as we don’t want to completely stop the inflammatory stage of the healing process, but if the inflammation is too much, then cold can help bring it back to a manageable level.

Heat is better for on-going aches and tight muscles. The warmth will open the blood vessels increasing blood flow and help improve healing. When an area is warmed up the muscles will soften and the fluids in the joints will move easier, reducing stiffness.

When using cold any object out of the freezer will do, whether that’s a cold pack or a bag of peas! Make sure to wrap it in a cloth/tea towel to avoid irritating the skin.  For areas around the neck and head or with children/elderly who may not tolerate the extreme cold, try a bowl of cool water and a face cloth, rinsing the cloth in the water then applying until it is no longer cool. Heat can be applied as either a hot water bottle or a wheat bag on to an area – be aware of applying directly to the skin so as to avoid burns! A hot shower or bath can help for overall aches and pains or tight muscles. 

There are rubs and sprays for both hot and cold as well as patches which can create a heated feeling for use on the go. These can be easily reapplied and left on under clothing. So why not give them a go next time you experience an ache or pain.

Cold

Hot

Benefits

  • Acute/sudden pain
  • Injuries
  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Better for disc and nerve issues

Benefits

  • Chronic pain
  • Arthritis aches and tight muscles
  • Increase movement
  • Decrease stiffness
  • Increase blood flow > increase healing

Recommendations

  • Solid cold object, wrapped in a cloth and applied for 5-10 minutes, every half hour, hour or 2 hourly depending on symptoms

Recommendation

  • Heat pack is applied for at least 20-30 minutes every day


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