Home Pain Management 101: Ice or Heat?

 In Pain Management, Tips and Tricks

The single biggest question we get asked is what people should use for home pain management: ice or heat. Both treatments are great natural remedies that most individuals can use easily and inexpensively for minor pains and injuries.  When deciding which one to use, there are a few principals to keep in mind to make the choice easier.

Cold therapy (also known as cryotherapy) constricts the blood vessels, therefore decreasing blood flow to the area, while also limiting muscle spasm and pain. If you have an injury you should apply cold therapy to the area to decrease pain. Cryotherapy is usually applied for 15-25 minutes, but never more than 40 minutes at a time because this could damage or destroy healthy tissue. During the application of ice, there are 4 phases of sensation that you will experience: starting from an intense cold to a burning, than an aching and finally numbness. You must recover normal skin temperature before applying ice once again, which could take approximately 45 minutes.

Heat therapy (also known as thermotherapy) dilates your blood vessels resulting in increased circulation and delivery of oxygen and nutrients, promoting tissue healing, and muscle extensibility.  If you have a chronic injury or ongoing muscle or joint stiffness, you should apply heat therapy to increase circulation and relax stiff muscles and joints. The treatment time for heat therapy generally lasts between 15 to 20 minutes, but it can be applied for longer. Some of the options for thermotherapy include hot packs or paraffin wax.

Generally speaking, cryotherapy is used for an acute or chronic injury to decrease pain while thermotherapy is used for chronic pain to increase movement and flexibility, while also decreasing pain.

People with sensation loss or compromised circulatory systems should use caution as you may not be able to properly monitor your response to either the heat or cold application.

If you are still questioning whether heat or ice is appropriate for you, please contact us with your questions or concerns.

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