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How to Use Heat and Cold Therapy to Treat Pain

Jan 6, 2016

Healing after an injury can be a long and painful process. And while there are many restorative practices you can do to speed along the process including physical therapy, massage, and other natural healing modalities, there’s also something quite simple you can do yourself at home to treat your pain. It’s head and cold therapy.

Pain Management with Heat & Cold Therapy

Using heat and cold therapy is one of the best ways for you to manage your pain right from the comfort of your home. In addition to avoiding the side effects of over the counter pain relievers, this kind of therapy can help the healing process move along faster by lowering inflammation for new injuries and improving range of motion for older injuries.

Whether you use heat or cold to treat your pain depends mostly on one thing: when the injury occurred. If you’re experiencing acute pain or you have a new injury that is swollen or inflamed, then cold therapy will work best for you. If you’re experiencing chronic pain or your injury is more than a day old, then heat therapy will work best for you. Of course, these are not hard and fast rules. So if you try either of these out and it is unpleasant, switch to the opposite to try to find some relief.

Cold Therapy Reduces Inflammation

Using ice on a fresh injury is not a new idea. In fact if you’ve ever fallen hard as a child, an adult likely immediately gave you an ice pack. This is to reduce the inflammation, swelling, pain, and redness associated with the injury. These are natural reactions to your body experiencing pain, however in excess these processes compress local tissue and cause more pain.

Using cold therapy not only reduces the pain by numbing the injury, but it also slows the blood vessel and reduces the fluid buildup at the site of the injury. By controlling the swelling, you will not only find that the injury is numbed, but you might find that it can help your injury heal a bit faster.

Cold therapy (also known as Cryotherapy) can be used to relieve the pain of an injury or to help speed the recovery of a rigorous exercise such as after a long run, swim, hike, or even sports play.

Heat Therapy Stimulates Blood Flow

Unlike cold therapy, heat therapy speeds up the blood flow and can be a gentle suggestion to your body to begin the healing process. You might find that heat therapy helps sooth sore muscles and relax muscle spasms especially with an older injury.

Using heat therapy reduces the pain by not only relaxing your muscles, but also by increasing the flow of lactic acid. This fluid often slows down in areas with decreased blood flow, but its removal is necessary for improving range of motion and decreasing pain. Paired with hydration, heat therapy can help you heal from pain from an ongoing injury or to relax sore muscles and stiffness from the body.

If the injury causing pain is severe, be sure to talk to your orthopaedic specialist to ensure that a more active approach to your pain management isn’t necessary.