When & 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. 

When to Use 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. The benefits of cold therapy are indisputable, so make sure you ice those injuries before applying any heat therapy.

Credicts of this article for:

Kevin Cleary