How many times have you wondered whether to use heat or cold to relieve pain or swelling? And why don’t we ever remember the answer from injury to injury?
In a nutshell, heat helps soothe stiff joints and relax muscles, and cold helps numb sharp pain and reduce inflammation. But there’s a little more to the story…
Heat is relaxing and is best for treating chronic (ongoing) pain. Heat can:
* Increase blood supply
* Eliminate the build-up of chemicals like lactate in the muscles that cause pain
* Relax soreness and stiffness
If you suffer from an ongoing injury, try applying heat before exercising, but not afterward since that will likely make the pain worse.
There are many ways to apply heat, from hot water bottles to heating pads. Just take care that the heat source is not too hot. If the temperature causes pain, discontinue use immediately.
Cold is most often used to treat acute (recent) injuries. So if the pain is recent, red, inflamed or sensitive, cold is your best bet. Cold can:
* Prevent damaged tissue from becoming inflamed
* Reduce swelling and redness
* Relieve pain, but not treat the injury Unlike heat, cold is best used after exercise to help reduce inflammation. Cold therapy comes in many forms, from ice to gel packs…and even frozen bags of peas. But be sure to remove the cold once the area becomes numb.
For heat and cold, the general rule of thumb is 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. If the pain persists for more than a few days, contact your doctor.