Should You Use Heat Therapy or Ice Therapy to Reduce Pain?

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If you’re like most people, at some point in your life you have reached for an ice pack or heating pad in hopes of quelling a stubborn ache or pain. As you probably discovered, heat therapy and ice therapy can both increase comfort and lessen the pain that results from injury. Best of all, these therapies are drug-free and cost almost nothing.

While heat therapy and ice therapy are excellent at reducing pain, it’s easy to get confused about when you should use each type of treatment. After all, some varieties of pain do not respond well to heat, and some do not benefit from cold. Which treatment—heat therapy or ice therapy— will reduce your particular pain? Read on to find out.

Ice Therapy is Best for Inflammation

Generally, any injury that is evidently inflamed should be treated with ice therapy, which is an excellent cure for inflammation.

Physiotherapist Laurie Sweet, writer for ABC News, says, “If an area is red, swollen, inflamed, or if it’s an acute injury, meaning an injury that just occurred, we want to cool the area down and prevent any inflammation.” Ice therapy is also ideal for bruises, sprains, strains, and bumps.

Is your pain site obviously inflamed or bruised? If so, place an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel over it for no longer than 20 minutes. Remove the cold pack from your skin for at least 10 minutes before re-applying it.

Heat Therapy Treats Stiff, Sore Muscles

Whereas pain caused by injuries that are clearly inflamed is best treated with ice therapy, heat therapy is superior for tending to chronic muscle/joint pain and stiffness. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, heat therapy “opens up blood vessels, which increases blood flow and supplies oxygen and nutrients to reduce pain in joints and relax sore muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The warmth also decreases muscle spasms and can increase range of motion.”

If you suffer with chronically painful, stiff muscles, try applying a heating pad to your site of pain for no more than 20 minutes. If you prefer moist heat, a hot bath may work well for you. No one with diabetes or poor circulation should use heat therapy unless directed by a doctor or physiotherapist.

Find the Best Cure for Your Pain

If you want to discover whether heat therapy or ice therapy is better for treating your specific pain/injury, be sure to ask a physiotherapist; these professionals know exactly which type of treatment can ease discomfort the quickest. Additionally, physiotherapists are excellent at getting patients to a place where their pain is either eliminated or well managed. Contact a physiotherapist today to put an end to your pain.

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