Hot and cold therapy: Is there a difference?

Hot and cold therapy have been vital measures in dealing with various injuries. Throughout the years, there has been confusion on which one to use, whether to apply cold or warmth to the affected area. Remember that it depends on the form of injury that the individual sustained.

Acute injuries: Should I use hot or cold therapy?

Acute injuries are due to traumatic accidents such as a fall, direct blow or twisting movement and causes immediate pain.

Once an acute injury occurs, the bleeding, swelling, pain and inflammation should be controlled. Cold therapy must be started right away to cool down the tissues, lower the metabolic rate and nerve conduction and cause vasoconstriction of the neighboring blood vessels.

An ice pack must be applied for up to 20 minutes for each session depending on the area affected and the deepness of the injured tissues. It must be re-applied on a regular basis every 1-3 hours.

Hot and cold therapy: Is there a difference?
An ice pack must be applied for up to 20 minutes for each session depending on the area affected and the deepness of the injured tissues.

After the initial 3-5 days, once the bleeding has stopped and there are no indications of inflammation, hot and cold can be alternated.

Chronic injuries

When it comes to chronic injuries, they do not occur abruptly and tend to build up over days, weeks or longer. The cause is often overuse or a biomechanical abnormality. In some cases, a chronic injury can be caused by an acute injury that was not able to heal due to poor treatment.

Heat therapy should be applied for 15-20 minutes in the form of a warm damp towel, hot water bottle, heat rub or heating pads. Make sure that a barrier of protection is placed over the skin to prevent burns, especially if a hot water bottle is used.

Heat is ideally used for chronic injuries to relax tight, aching joints and muscles, increase elasticity of the tendons and ligaments as well as increasing the flow of blood to the area. Heat can also be used before exercise in chronic injuries to warm up the muscles and promote flexibility. The only time in which cold therapy is used for chronic injuries is after exercise to minimize any residual swelling.

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on hot and cold therapy is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage injuries using hot and cold therapy, register for a first aid and CPR course with Red Deer First Aid.

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