Hot cold treatment – when to use

hot and cold treatment - when to use

Most people are aware that the use of hot cold treatment can be very beneficial in treating some musculoskeletal conditions but a lot of people get confused about which one to use and at what stages of rehabilitation should they go from using one to the other?

As a general rule of thumb, the use of cold is really beneficial following a trauma, injury or accident. So if you’ve sprained an ankle or had an injury playing sport it’s recommended to use ice because it reduces blood flow and brings down inflammation alongside the detrimental effects that go with excessive congestion in the area.

How to deal with inflammation

A certain amount of inflammation is very beneficial because inflammation contains white blood cells and white blood cells help fight bugs or infection which might have come through an open wound. The downside to inflammation is that excessive amounts of it are detrimental to the healing process.

In some situations increased blood flow to an injury can be excessive, meaning the tissues will become inflamed and the cells start to stagnate, the blood cells will die and the white cells in particular will cause necrotic damage to those tissues. So excessive amounts of inflammation is not a good thing and we can use ice to reduce the blood flow and the likelihood of chronic inflammatory effects.

Now after a few weeks depending on the severity of the injury, things start to heal and what we want to do here is try to accelerate that repair process by using heat to dilate the blood vessels and let fresh oxygen and nutrition through which can be very beneficial to the injury.

Cells in the body that don’t get enough blood start to die. They need oxygen and they need nutrition in order to survive. Muscle fibre which has been starved of oxygen and nutrition basically starts to waste (atrophy).

So when you’ve got chronic pain, increasing the blood flow and allowing more blood through to the injury site can be really beneficial. It will bring relief, warmth and oxygen to the pain area.

Hot cold treatment together

Once the initial inflammation has subsided, you can use hot cold treatment together to accelerate the natural healing process. By continuously transitioning from hot to cold you can help to open and close the blood vessels to drive more nutrition and oxygen through to the injury site.

Additionally combining hot cold treatment with massage is also very effective. When you physically push fresh blood through the tissues it can start to feel a lot better and accelerate the natural healing and rehabilitation processes.

Treating muscle and joint pain

If you’ve got muscle and joint (musculoskeletal) pain which is bothering you, whether it be acute or chronic in origin and you need some help and advice on managing the pain, you can use our pain assessment feature to determine the cause of your pain.

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Watch the ‘When to use hot and cold’ video here

Other hot cold treatment resources

Hot cold therapy – how it works
Pain Management – Try heat or ice
Hot and Cold Therapy for Arthritis Joint Pain