The benefits of heat or cold therapy

Have you ever reached for the heat pack when your muscles were feeling a bit sore? Or grabbed the ice pack when you hurt yourself? Then you are already aware of some of the healing properties that heat or cold therapy can bring.

Both types of therapy are popular because they are cheap and they are easy. They are the kind of therapy you can do at home, with the aid of just a couple of inexpensive props. They are also super effective in relieving pain, reducing swelling and increasing/decreasing circulation.

The overall benefits of using hot or cold therapy is that it promotes natural healing and health, meaning you can get relief from pain and aid recovery without the use of medication or surgery.

However, it should be noted that heat therapy and cold therapy often work well alongside other types of therapy. You may visit the chiropractor in Manly Vale and find that along with massage, manipulation or rehabilitation exercises, heat and cold therapy is used at certain times.

Heat therapy

When you have strain or tension in muscles or soft tissues the circulation in that area will be restricted and as a result pain signals are sent to the brain. Heat therapy helps relieve that pain and also promotes natural healing within the body.

When heat is applied to the sore area it will improve circulation. This is because the heat will dilate the blood vessels therefore letting the blood flow increase. With the increased blood flow, more oxygen is carried to the muscles and this helps the damaged tissue repair itself. The increased blood flow also reduces carbon dioxide and toxins within the tissues. Lowering the carbon dioxide will then lower acid levels, and this combined with getting rid of toxins will help manage pain as these are often the reasons you are feeling pain in the first place.

Heat also helps relieve pain by stimulating the sensory receptors in the skin, so when you apply a heat pack to the skin it will decrease transmissions of pain signals to the brain and that helps alleviate the discomfort.

Another added benefit of heat therapy is relieving stiffness in joints. The heat brings on an increase in blood flow which will reach the joints, and as a result you will start to produce more synovial fluid. This fluid is the lubricant within your joints, and the more you have the more they will keep moving smoothly.

Although easy to use, there are some things you need to be careful of when using heat therapy. The most obvious one is to watch out for burns. Don’t place a heat pack straight from the microwave onto your body without first testing it for how hot it is. If you have sensory issues you should check the area regularly for redness or burns. If the area is numb, you won’t know if the skin is reacting to the heat.

Please note that heat therapy should not be the first thing you use straight after an injury. When the injury first occurs you will likely be experiencing some swelling, and applying heat will only make the swelling worse. To begin with, you should only use ice or a cold pack.

Cold therapy

Heat therapy is great for muscle pain and stiffness and anything that is non-inflammatory. But if you have acute inflammation or a fresh injury, you should use only ice on it.

Straight after an injury, and for the next 24 to 48 hours, you should use cold therapy. When ice or cold gel is applied to the skin it will make the blood vessels constrict, reducing the blood flow. Once the circulation is slowed, the inflammation and muscles spasm will reduce, and therefore so will the pain. As a result of all of this, swelling will go down and any internal bleeding will be slowed or will stop. The cold will also numb the nerve endings, which helps to decrease pain.

Cold therapy is great for sprains, strains, bumps, bruises or muscle tears. If you can see the physical swelling or bruising, apply a cold pack to it, on and off for a day or two. Unlike heat therapy, if you have stiff muscles or joints you should not use cold therapy or it will just make the stiffness worse.

Only use cold packs for about 15-20 minutes at a time, and then give yourself a ten-minute break so that you don’t suffer ice burns. If you are using ice you should use a thin towel around it, again to reduce the chances of getting ice burn.

Cold and heat therapy are not only used in case of injury or soreness. Heat therapy can be soothing even if you are just feeling a bit tense, and cold therapy is great to use directly after strenuous exercise to help the muscles repair themselves.

June 27, 2016
Georgina Smith