When to Use Heat and Cold to Treat Injuries and Reduce Pain 

 June 7, 2016

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If you are injured or have chronic pain, applying cold or heat can reduce discomfort. Many people are confused about when to use each. Using the wrong one can be ineffective or can possibly even make the condition worse. Here are some tips to help you decide whether you should use heat or cold to deal with pain.

When and How to Use Heat

Using heat therapy can open blood vessels to increase the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the affected area. It can reduce pain in joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Heat can reduce muscle spasms and increase range of motion.

You can use a dry or moist source of heat. Moist heat can penetrate better. Good options include a microwaveable or electric heating pad, gel pack, hot water bottle, or hot bath or shower. You can ask your doctor or physical therapist what type of heat source to use for your pain. It should not be too hot. Try to maintain a consistent temperature.

You should wrap the heat source in a thin towel so it is not in direct contact with your skin. Do not apply heat for more than 20 minutes at a time unless your doctor or physical therapist tells you to do so. If the area is swollen, use ice before heat. You should not use heat if you have diabetes or poor circulation. It should not be used on stitches or an open wound. You should not lie on a heating pad because you could fall asleep and get burned.

When and How to Use Cold

If you have a new injury, it can become inflamed and swollen. Ice can decrease blood flow to the site of the injury to reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain.

Cold therapy should be used for 24 to 48 hours after an injury, such as a sprain, strain, bruise, or sports-related or lifting injury. Wrap an ice pack in a thin towel so it is not in direct contact with your skin. Apply cold for 20 minutes, then take it off for 10 minutes before reapplying it.

When You Should Not Use Heat and Cold

Heat can worsen inflammation, and ice can worsen muscle pain and spasms. If you are sweating and apply heat to a sore muscle or you are shivering and apply ice to an injury, your brain may interpret that as a threat and increase the level of pain.

If you have an injured muscle, you should ice it for the first couple of days to reduce inflammation. After that, switch to heat.

Where to Order Hot and Cold Packs for Your First Aid Kit

Knowing when to apply heat and cold can help you relieve pain and reduce inflammation associated with an injury. You should have a first aid kit stocked with hot and cold packs at your home or business so you will be prepared to treat sore muscles or injuries. Order the supplies you need from 1st Aid Supplies today.


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