Hot vs Cold Therapy

What is heat therapy? 

Heat therapy can help to reduce muscle spasms, stiffness and pain while the heat is applied. It is believed that heat promotes blood flow and can help to relax the surrounding tissue. 

Heat therapy can be in the form of hot packs, infrared heat, hot baths 

What is cold therapy?

Cold therapy can help to numb the tissues and is effective for pain relief and reducing swelling.. There is some evidence to show that ice constricts blood vessels and reduces the circulation to the area. 

 Cold therapy can be in the form of ice packs or cool/ice bathsIce ankle sprain

What should I use, heat or ice?

It can be difficult to differentiate between the two as they cross over for many injuries or conditions. If you are using them for pain relief only, whichever therapy you prefer and find to be the most effective then stick with that.

If you are experiencing lots of swelling from an acute injury then ice can be effective, conversely if the condition is more chronic and you are looking to relax the muscles from spasm or stiffness then use heat.  

When to use heat

Heat can be effective for injuries or conditions that involve stiffness or muscle spasm. For example, for someone with stomach cramps or muscle spasms in their back then heat can help to relax the tissue and provide relief.  

When to use ice

Ice can be effective in reducing the full extent of swelling in the early stages of recovery. Therefore in severe injuries such as a bad ankle sprain, where too much swelling will affect ankle range of motion or in knee ligament injuries, where the quadriceps muscles can become inhibited due to large amounts of swelling, Ice can be beneficial to maintain function.

Can using the wrong one do damage? Or just ineffective?

As long as you are avoiding prolonged exposure and skin burns from severe cold or heat on the direct skin, the risk of tissue damage or exacerbating the injury is very low. It has been found that the temperature change has very little effect on the underlying muscles and joints. So at the end of the day it is a personal choice, whichever therapy, hot or cold, you find most beneficial then you should go with that unless you are in one of the specific categories we outlined above.

In people with reduced tissue blood supply and sensation, you have to be careful while using hot or cold therapy to avoid burning.        

Previously Known as Appleby Physiotherapy 



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