Ever wondered if you should ice that sprain or use a heat pack instead? Knowing when to apply heat and ice to injuries can be tricky. Knowing what situations calls for hot, and which calls for cold can be difficult. But what about using both together? Treating pain with hot and cold can be extremely effective for a number of different conditions and injuries, and easily affordable.
Alternating hot and cold therapy is known as contrast therapy and involves alternating applications of heat and ice to relieve the pain associated with injury or overexertion. This simple, affordable, and relatively low-risk treatment can be performed in your own home to provide rapid and natural pain relief for all sorts of aches and pains. In order to understand the benefits of contrast therapy, it’s beneficial to know exactly when and why heat and ice work for pain relief—and when they don’t.
HEAT THERAPY: How it works
Heat therapy works by improving circulation and blood flow to a particular area due to increased temperature. Increasing the temperature of the afflicted area even slightly can soothe discomfort and increase muscle flexibility. It can also relax and soothe muscles and heal damaged tissue.
There are two different types of heat therapy: dry heat and moist heat. Both types of heat therapy should aim for “warm” as the ideal temperature instead of “hot.” There are certain cases where heat therapy should not be used, however. For example, if the area in question is either bruised or swollen (or both), it may be better to use cold therapy. Heat therapy also shouldn’t be applied to an area with an open wound. In addition, people with certain pre-existing conditions should not use heat therapy due to higher risk of burns or complications due to heat application. These conditions include:
COLD THERAPY: How it works
Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, works by reducing blood flow to a particular area, which can significantly reduce inflammation and swelling that causes pain, especially around a joint or a tendon. It can temporarily reduce nerve activity, which can also relieve pain. There are a number of different ways to apply cold therapy to an affected area. Treatment options include:
Which Injuries Does Contrast Therapy Work Best For?
Contrast therapy will relieve pain and swelling associated with a variety of injuries. This versatile treatment can be used for a variety of conditions, including:
Better Together: Alternating Hot and Cold Therapy
Alternating hot and cold therapy offers benefits above and beyond ice or heat alone, although it’s important to avoid this treatment if you have an acute injury or certain medical conditions. For most people, contrast therapy offers an easy and cheap way to lower inflammation, loosen muscles, and enjoy natural pain relief. Perseverance is key to effective contrast therapy. If you’re seeing benefits, keep up the treatments until you are fully healed.