By Fang L.K(RN)

Ice and heat are easy, natural and affordable ways to relieve pain. But which one is better for your particular problem?

Cold Therapy

What does cold therapy do?

– Constricts the blood vessels – reduces blood flow to the injury – limits the amount of fluid that pools around the injury – prevents or minimizes swelling and bruising.
– Helps to numb the nerve endings – stops the transfer of impulses to the brain that register as pain.

When to use cold therapy?

– Acute injury e.g. sprains, strains, pulled muscles and bruises, to reduce pain and inflammation.
– After exercise, can reduce post-exercise inflammation and muscles spasm.
– Headache, help in throbbing pain of migraine.
– Acute gout flares, to reduce inflammation and pain.
– Insect bites, to reduce pain and swelling.
– Toothache, to reduce pain and swelling.
– Minor burns, to reduce pain.

How can I use it safely?

– By an ice bag or cold pack.
– Do not apply cold source directly to skin. Wraps it in a towel before applying.
– Do not apply it for longer than 20 minutes at a time. Excessive cold can cause skin and nerve damage.
– If you feel numb or notice your skin becoming bright red, remove the cold source immediately.
– Do not use ice if you have circulation problems, sensation loss or diabetes.
– Do not use ice on an open wound.

Heat Therapy

What does heat therapy do?

– Dilates blood vessels – increases blood flow – supplies oxygen and nutrients to the injury – promote healing.
– Relieves muscles spasms – improve flexibility of tendons and ligaments – soothe stiff joints – relieves pain.

When to use heat therapy?

– Chronic pain which is persistent or recurrent pain e.g. lower back pain, osteoarthritis.
– Before exercising, helps to loosen joints and muscles.
– When an injury is older than 48 hours, helps to relieve pain and spasm.
– Headache, relaxes painful neck spasms or tense muscles that contribute to headache.
– Menstrual cramps, relaxes the contracting muscles in the uterus which cause pain.
– Stomach pain due to colic or diarrhoea, helps to lessen pain by relaxes irritable and hyperactive bowels.

How can I use it safely?

– By heating pad or hot water bag.
– The heat should be warm, not too hot.
– Do not apply heat directly to skin. Wrap the heat source in a towel to prevent burn.
– Do not apply heat for longer than 20 minutes at a time.
– Do not use heat if there is swelling.
– Do not use heat if you have poor circulation, sensation loss or diabetes.
– Do not use heat on an open wound or skin infection.
– Do not lie on a hot pack to avoid falling asleep and potentially burning yourself.

Using heat and cold therapy is relatively simple and if these therapies are applied properly, they can be effective and safe. Be especially careful when applying heat or cold to infants, children and the elderly. In the event of serious conditions or if you are unsure whether a hot or cold therapy is safe for the condition, always consult your health care providers.

Reference:

1. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=4483
2. http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/try-heat-or-ice
3. http://patient.info/health/ice-and-heat-treatment-for-injuries
4. http://www.healthline.com/health/first-aid/bites-stings#Overview1

*This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or treatment from a health care provider. Like any printed material, it may become out-of-date over time.

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