Which one’s better? Cold therapy or heat therapy? Both have benefits, and depending on your injury, one may be more effective than the other. In this article, we’ll cover the differences between cold and heat therapy, including some popular myths about each method and how to use them together for the best recovery possible.
Heat therapy helps relax muscles and ease pain by increasing blood flow to an injured area. Studies show that using a heating pad, or even hot water bottles (wrapped in towels), can reduce joint stiffness and swelling after exercise—and help you recover faster. While ice packs are effective at numbing your pain and inflammation (one study found that people taking ibuprofen felt less sore after icing their injury than those who used acetaminophen), heat works best at reducing tenderness; it also helps loosen muscles that have tightened up due to overuse, which makes them more likely to be stretched successfully during physical therapy sessions. To get relief from an injury, apply moist heat via a heating pad set on high.
The Importance of Cooling Down Injuries Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, employs an ice pack, ice massage or other means to lower inflammation and pain. The cold constricts blood vessels to help numb nerves and slow down muscle cell activity; it can also limit swelling. But be careful not to ice too long—the body actually begins to compensate by increasing blood flow when exposed to cold temperatures. Always consult a physician before beginning any new form of treatment for an injury.
When to use which
It’s easy to figure out when it’s okay to use ice packs. The first thing you need to know is that an ice pack will be very useful for a soft tissue injury like a sprain, strain, or pulled muscle. Ice helps reduce swelling and inflammation in these types of injuries. It can also be useful with some joint-related issues like pain from arthritis. If you’re icing an injury that involves damage to your ligaments (like an ankle sprain), remember not to apply ice directly on your skin; instead, wrap it in a wet cloth before applying.
Wrapping it up with a recommendation
While there are times when both are useful, research shows that with most injuries, one of these two methods will be more effective than the other. The next time you’re injured and want to speed up your recovery, try using ice first. If you don’t notice any difference after a few days, feel free to switch over to heat. You’ll probably notice pain relief a little faster if you use heat because that’s typically how it works in sports medicine. But if you have a large injury (sprained ankle), it might take longer to feel like yourself again. It’s always best to consult with a physician about injury-related questions—just make sure they’re not recommending hot yoga right off the bat!