One question that comes up a lot here at Old Bones Therapy is when to use alternating ice and heat therapy. When used correctly hot/cold treatment can soothe our aches and pains and vastly increase injury healing time. But if used incorrectly heat or ice can exacerbate an existing problem. We're here to explain the differences and benefits between cold therapy and heat therapy and when to use each for optimal results.
When to Use Ice Therapy
When you have an injury or body part that is inflamed or swollen then you want to use ice and cold therapy. Athletes and weekend warriors can be pretty hard on their bodies. Often overusing or pulling muscles, sprained ankles, twisted knees, etc. can all lead to inflammation. The best thing you can do is immediately administer some form of cold therapy which will assist in reducing the inflammation and swelling. When you apply ice to swollen muscles, the cold constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the area, and pain, swelling, and inflammation decrease. When applied correctly, often over 3 to 5 days, cold therapy will not only help with numbing the pain, but speed up the recovery process.
Remember... ICE --> INFLAMMATION / SWELLING.
When to Use Heat Therapy
Heat increases circulation and raises skin temperature, which is great for soothing and relaxing stiff and tired muscles. On the other hand, the increased blood flow can cause inflammation and swelling to get worse. This is why it's important to never put heat on an injury. Heat therapy has been associated with relieving and eliminating lower back pain, muscle spasms, arthritis and menstrual cramps. I know from my own personal experience that heat really helps me to relax and get my lower back loosened up in the morning when I wake up super stiff and sore.
Remember... HEAT --> LOOSEN UP STIFF AND SORE MUSCLES.
Alternating Heat and Cold Therapy
Based on certain situations, both heat and cold therapy can be appropriate and really make a big difference in the recovery process. However, it is very important to understand when and why to use the two together. General consensus is to treat a fresh injury with ice for the first few days in order to get the inflammation and swelling down. Only then is it appropriate to apply heat which will increase circulation and blood flow. By alternating between ice and heat therapy every 10-20 mins, you increase circulation to your injured area while helping with the swelling and pain. Used together, hot and cold therapy can work together to speed up the recovery process.
As you can see it's not uncommon for an individual to be completely confused about what type of therapy to use. Remember the rules above and listen to your body. That said, here are 3 easy to remember guidelines:
- When a person has been injured it is important to reduce the inflammation immediately with ice.
- Use heat to relax and soothe sore muscles and increase range of motion.
- Never use heat on a fresh injury or body part that is inflamed or swollen.
Until next time... Here's to keeping you active and ruling at life!
Founder @ Old Bones Therapy