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When do I use a hot pack or heating pad vs a cold pack for pain?

Posted in Preventative Tips, General, Conditions & Treatment

When do I use a hot pack or heating pad vs a cold pack for pain?

Cold (ice) packs and hot (heating) pads are among the most commonly used treatments for sore muscles, inflammation or an injury. But when should you use heat and when is it better to use cold?

This is a really good question, one we hear quite frequently. As a general rule of thumb, use ice for acute injuries or pain, that may also involve inflammation or swelling. Use heat for muscle pain or stiffness.

Sometimes a single treatment will even include both.

Use a Cold Pack for Acute Injuries & Pain

When – Cold is the choice if the injury is aching, even at rest. or if it’s a ‘brand new’ injury (ie. up to within 2-3 days). Cold is also a good choice if you reinjured something (ie. you sprained your ankle and 2 weeks later rerolled it).  

What – Ice pack, cold cloth, ice bath or ice massage.

Why – Cooling agents help narrow the blood vessels which decrease blood flow, reduce swelling to the injured area and can be numbing effect for pain management. IMPORTANT: Always remember to protect your skin with a barrier between you and the cooling agent.

How - Cold therapy should be applied every couple of hours for approximately 10-15 minutes at a time.

Use a Heating Pad or Pack for Muscle Pain or Stiffness

When – Heat is the recommended treatment for chronic, longer lasting problems, specifically when there is tension or tightness to be loosened.

What – Electric heating pads, hot water bottles, microwaveable bean bags or gel packs.

Why – Heat therapy works by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow. This helps deliver nutrients and oxygen to the cells in the area being treated, contributing to healing. Heat can increase range of mobility and can help with pain management, muscle and joint stiffness.

How - Use barrier between your skin and the heat source, limiting the treatment to no more than 10-15 minutes at a time to avoid burns.

Still not sure whether heat or cold is best for your injury?

We'd be happy to help you sort it out. Give us a call or book an appointment at our clinic.

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