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Heat and cold therapy: what you need to know

Know in which situation you can use heat and cold packs to relieve pain.

Often heat, cold or combination of both therapies is recommended to treat pain and injuries. However, it's important to know when each of these is used.

Written by Sukriti Shahi |Published : October 29, 2019 3:18 PM IST

Heat and cold treatments are often used to relieve pain, for arthritis, injuries or inflammation of joints. These are the most affordable pain relief remedy. In fact, experts believe that these home remedies are very effective in relieving pain. Basic heat therapy called thermotherapy is done using hot water bottle, pads that can be heated or warm baths. For cold therapy, also called cryotherapy, cold water bottle or a pack cooled in freezer is used.

It's tricky to know when to use what and is usually dependent on doctor's advice, but there are some basic rules to it. Cold therapy is usually used for acute injuries or pain. It reduces inflammation and swelling by decreasing the blood flow. It should be applied within 48 hours of injury. On the other hand, heat therapy is usually used to increase the blood flow to treat muscle pain and relax stiffness.

Heat therapy heat treatment for pain

Using heat therapy on afflicted area helps dilating the blood vessels and increasing the blood flow around the area. Apart from treating stiffness, it also helps in immediate relief from pain. It relaxes the tighten muscles and it can help reduce the lactic acid build-up. This build-up can happen because of some type of exercise. Heat is usually more benefiting for chronic muscle pain and arthritis pain than cold therapy.

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Heat pack is usually of two types dry and moist. Moist heat can be applied only for two hours and is more effective than dry heat. Dry heat can be applied for eight hours. Be very careful regarding high temperature and related burns. Also, don't use heat or a heat pad on inflamed skin or an open wound.

Heat is beneficial to treat pain from arthritis. When applied on neck, it can provide relief from spasm and headaches. It can also be beneficial in warming up the stiff tissues or muscles before any physical activity. Studies show that continuous low-level heat wrap therapy are more effective than oral analgesics and ibuprofen.

Cold therapy cold treatment for pain

This therapy reduces the blood flow in and around the afflicted area to treat pain causing inflammation and swelling. If the area is around joint and tendon, it's more effective to use cold therapy. Because it stops nerve activity temporarily, it can help relieving pain by acting as a local anaesthetic. It's beneficial for sportsmen. Remember, if you are using ice for this therapy, do not apply it directly onto the skin.

Massaging the affected area with ice or an ice pack, cold water soak or using cold gel are different types of cold therapies. You can also make a cold pack for yourself at home by filling a plastic bag with frozen vegetables or ice and wrapping it around the affected area.

These therapies are most beneficial for osteoarthritis, gout, recent injury, strains, and irritation in tendons caused by an activity. Apart from this, a cold wrap around the head can also help in relieving migraine symptoms. It's good for muscles spasm that happens during stretching. Never use it on stiff joints or muscles. If you have poor blood circulation, do not use cold therapy.

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