Heat VS Cold

Heat vs. Cold?

There is an age old debate within sports medicine circles concerning when to use heat or cryotherapy for pain management after an injury has occurred.  Both are beneficial in different ways.

Heat is beneficial for:

woman putting a hot pack on her shoulder pain

  • dilating the blood vessels
  • loosening up tight muscle
  • Muscle spasms
  • chronic conditions

Ice or cryotherapy is best for:a woman applying cold pack on swollen hurting neck

  • constricting blood vessels
  • reduce swelling
  • numbing painful areas
  • acute injury

What we have found to work best with all soft tissue injuries is to alternate heat, room temperature, and ice as opposed to using one or the other for prolonged periods of time.  The alternating heat-room temp- ice-room temp is a healing therapy for all soft tissue injuries. It works by dilating the blood vessels and pumping more oxygenated blood into the tissues to allow them to heal faster.

The healing effect is when the blood vessels change size so it is important to let the body part return to room temperature before changing to heat or ice again. Typically, each stage of the cycle should be 5 to 10 minutes. Prolonged heat and ice can do more harm than good, especially if you skip the room temperature phase. Using hot and cold to pump blood in an injured area will allow optimal oxygenated blood flow to the area that is injured, thus allowing more nutrients and healing chemicals in to the area of concern so that it can heal fast.