How does heat and cold therapy work?
Heat and cold therapy is advised when a new injury is causing inflammation and possibly swelling. We suggest this therapy for patients who are too acute to start treatment. This therapy helps to calm the acute area before treatment.
Cold therapy reduces the blood flow to the injury, as the blood vessels contract and vasoconstriction occurs. This means that the tissue circulation is reduced, thereby decreasing inflammation and reducing the risk of swelling and tissue damage. It also numbs the tissue, acting like a local anesthetic by slowing down the pain messages being transported to the brain.
Heat therapy promotes blood flow to inflamed areas, dilates the blood vessels, helps to relax tightened muscles and promotes healing within the tissue. Improving the circulation within the tissue helps to eliminate the build up of lactic acid wast products and the income flow of fresh blood brings nutrients to help the injured tissue heal.
What you will need:
- COLD – Cold compress, or a plastic bag with frozen vegetables or ice which is wrapped in a dry cloth, ( ice should not be applied directly to the skin, as this can damage body tissues.). Alternatively we suggest ice cubes in a bowl of cold water and face flannel.
- HEAT – Hot water bottle or microwaved heat pack. Alternatively we suggest hot water from kettle in a bowl and face flannel. (Water must be hot enough to touch without burning the skin.)
- Apply the COLD to the area you are experiencing pain/swelling for 30 seconds to 1 minutes.
- Remove and apply the HEAT for a further 30 seconds to 1 minutes in the same area.
- Repeat this process alternating step 1 and 2 for approximately 20 to 30 minuets, always finishing with HEAT.
For maximum affect these steps must be applied 2 to 3 times per day. For acute injury we suggest trying these steps ever 20 to 30 minuets. Don’t forget always start with COLD and finish with HEAT.
Hot therapy alone should not be used on a new injury, open wound, or if a person is already overheated. The temperature should be comfortable and should not burn the skin.
Cold therapy should not be used if a person is already cold. Applying cold therapy alone to a tense or stiff muscle in the back or neck may make the pain worse. Ice should never be applied directly to the bony portions of the spinal column.
Hot and cold therapy may not be suitable for diabetic nephropathy or conditions that reduce sensation of heat and cold, such as Raynaud’s syndrome, or have cognitive or communication difficulties, or if they are very young or very old.