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When and How to Use Hot/Cold Therapy

Recovering and rehabbing from an injury requires the correct therapy course of action. It makes no sense to adopt a course of action that won’t benefit your injury, would it? Of course not, so the most logical step would be developing a rehab plan with your doctor or physical therapist that would benefit healing your malady as quickly as possible. One of the cornerstones of any rehab therapy is the use of heat or cold therapy to aid in your healing. You should always advise your medical professional, be it your doctor or your physical therapist, before starting any rehab or exercise program.

What Exactly Is Hot or Cold Therapy?

We’ve all heard “put a heating pad on” or “make sure you ice it” when it comes to making our common everyday injuries feel better. The question is do we fully understand what each type of therapy is and how it affects us? Heat and cold are the most common noninvasive type of passive therapy and are often used together. Heat/cold agents should always be used carefully since both can cause additional injury to surrounding skin if used inappropriately. Knowing when to use heat instead of cold (or vice versa) is the key component to successful therapy. The University of Rochester Medical Center states that a new injury can cause inflammation or swelling, therefore the use of cold therapy or ice will decrease the blood flow to the area and reduce any inflammation or swelling. If pain persists, heat therapy will return blood to the area and promote healing.

When to Use Heat Therapy

What exactly does heat therapy do to help our bodies heal? The University of Rochester Medical Center maintains that heat increases blood flow by opening up blood vessels which in return supplies oxygen and nutrients to reduce pain and soothe sore muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The heat also reduces muscle spasms and can increase range of motion. There are predominately two types of heat that can be applied: dry and moist. Spine-health.com states that a dry heat may end up drying out the skin while a moist heat may penetrate deeper into sore and aching muscles. A good option for applying dry heat is the Cara King Size Deluxe Slide Switch Heating Pad. It offers a 60 minute auto turnoff and can even be used for moist heat. Another good heating pad option is the Kaz SoftHeat Deluxe Electric Heating Pad which has for precise temperature settings. It has a soft fleece cover which is machine washable and can also be used to deliver moist heat. An interesting way to apply heat therapy is the Conair Body Benefits Heated Massaging Seat Cushion. It combines the benefits of soothing heat therapy with the soothing relief of massage. For those that choose moist heat, Battle Creek offers the Good2Go Microwave Moist Heat Therapy Pad and the Good2Go Microwave Moist Cervical and Pelvic Heat Therapy Pad; both provide moist heat and can be used to target a wide variety of muscle aches. Many of the moist heating pads can be conveniently warmed up in the microwave. The Graham-Field Microwavable Moist Heat Therapy Packs and the Mabis DMI TheraBeads Microwavable Moist Heat Therapy Pads are both good examples of affordable moist heat therapy pads. Another interesting way to deliver heat therapy is the Wahl Heat Therapy Therapeutic Massager which combines therapeutic massage with the benefits of heat therapy. You should consult your doctor to determine which type of heat would best benefit you. It’s very important to make sure that you use heat therapy safely so as not to burn your skin. Any type of heated therapy aid should be wrapped in a thin towel and you should never lie on top of any type of heated element since you may fall asleep and accidentally burn your skin. Heat should never be used if there is swelling or if you have poor circulation or diabetes. Unless your doctor or physical therapist suggests, heat therapy should be for no longer than 20 minutes.

When to Use Cold Therapy

Cold Therapy

Unlike heat therapy which promotes blood flow, cold therapy restricts blood flow and reduces inflammation and swelling. Cold therapy is a vasoconstrictor and is used right after an injury occurs and can continue for up to 48 hours. Much like heat therapy, cold therapy should only be applied for 10-20 minutes at a time. It can be removed for 10 minutes and then reapplied again. The most common source for cold therapy is ice or gel packs and should not be applied directly to the skin, but wrapped in a thin towel. As sportsmedicine.about.com points out, cold therapy can be used for athletes with chronic pain or an overuse injury. An example they use is a runner that experiences knee pain that increases after running may want to ice their knee after each run to reduce pain and swelling. The Acu-Life Theropod Thermal Relief Moist Heat and Cold Therapy Pad demonstrates how cold and heat therapies are used together. It provides relief from sore muscles and joints while the cold compress therapy reduces swelling and inflammation. The Battle Creek Ice It ColdComfort Cold Therapy System is available for the knee, shoulder, and the ankle, elbow, and foot. Bodymed also offers cold therapy systems designed for specific body parts such as the Cold Compression Therapy Wrap for the ankle, back, knee, and shoulder. They combine the benefits of both cold therapy with the added advantage of compression therapy through the use of a simple pump. Some body parts, such as the ankle, can be difficult to ice because of their shape. The Mueller Gel-Brace Cold Therapy Ankle Stirrup solves this problem. It brings cold therapy treatment to injured ankles by creating a custom fit for the ankle. One system that can provide cold therapy relief to different body parts is the Polar Active Ice Cold Therapy System. It delivers localized cold therapy by circulating cold water to the desired body part such as your knee, shoulders, or back. The benefits of cold therapy are indisputable, so make sure you ice those injuries before applying any heat therapy.

 

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