The Beginners Guide To Treating Your Injury With Heat Therapy Vs. Cold Therapy

When you have pain, your most pressing question is how to relieve it, but knowing whether to use ice or heat therapy is often confusing. Your mother tells you to put ice on it, and your friend tells you to use a heating pad, but who is right? The answer is they both are, what really matters is the type of pain and the cause.

Here are the basic rules to guide when to use heat or cold:

HEAT : Heat is best used for a chronic injury or an injury that is more than a day old. If you have chronic stiff muscle pain then heat is for you.

COLD : Cold is best used for a acute pain or a swollen or inflamed injury.

Still not sure, ask yourself is this injury or pain new or is it an ongoing chronic pain? If it’s new use cold, if it’s chronic go with heat.

So how do heat and cold therapies differ and how do they work?

HEAT works by opening up the blood vessels, which increases blood flow and supplies oxygen and nutrients to reduce pain in joints and relax sore muscles, ligaments, and tendons. If you are planning to exercise, apply heat before exercising to increase flexibility and improve blood flow.

COLD works by numbing the injury as well as slowing down blood flow to an injury. It will reduce swelling, muscle spasms, and relieve pain. If you are planning to exercise, cold should only be used AFTER the exercise is complete.

Exactly how do I use heat and cold therapies?


* should not be used for more than 20 minutes unless advised by your doctor or therapist.

* use a heating pad or a hot wet towel

*be careful not to burn yourself! Heat should not be used directly on your skin, instead wrap a thin towel around your heat source.


* should not be used for more than 20 minutes unless advised by your doctor or therapist.

*There are many options for using cold packs:

  • an ice pack
  • a cold gel pack
  • a bag of frozen vegetables
  • a bag filled with ice (when using this method use a thin towel around the bag to prevent frostbite.

Still have questions? Dr. Johnson, your Baltimore Chiropractor and his staff at Johnson Chiropractic are happy to help. Contact us at: (410) 744-1233

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