When muscles and joints are injured or inflamed, pain can be severe. Fortunately, many individuals obtain relief without relying on medications. Instead, they use natural, noninvasive treatments—such as the application of ice and heat. While both are fairly simple physical therapy practices, knowing when to use each isn’t always clear. To help you better understand these approaches, Step By Step Physical Therapy in Warsaw, NY, highlights the main differences between cold and heat therapy for pain relief.
When to Ice an Injury
In cold therapy, an ice pack is applied directly to an injury. Exposure to cold temperatures can numb nerve endings, and in turn, reduce pain signals sent to the brain. Ice application also restricts blood flow, which alleviates swelling and bruising in the affected area.
This method is best reserved for acute injuries—those that occur suddenly and present noticeable symptoms. Examples of acute injuries include torn muscles and sprains. For maximum pain relief and healing, apply ice immediately after an injury.
If you feel stiff or are about to perform physical therapy exercises, avoid ice. Cool temperatures cause tissues to contract, so this will only worsen your discomfort and decrease your range of motion.
When to Heat an Injury
Applying warmth via a heating pad or hot water bottle has the opposite effect. Instead of restricting blood flow, heat promotes circulation to accelerate healing and provide pain relief. Heat will also relax and loosen tissues and joints, making them more elastic and providing a greater range of motion.
For these reasons, heat therapy is best reserved for chronic injuries—those that have caused reoccurring complications for a considerable amount of time. For example, this method is ideal for arthritis pain treatment or long-term muscle damage. In some cases, physical therapists will alternate heat application with cold therapy for an acute injury, so long as ice has been applied for at least 48 hours.
In the midst of pain or limited mobility, you may not know if you’re suffering from an acute or chronic injury. If you’re unsure, turn to the professionals at Step By Step Physical Therapy. They have the expertise to accurately evaluate your condition and determine which treatments are best. To learn more about the services they offer in a comfortable, supportive environment, visit this Warsaw, NY, rehabilitation center online. To schedule an appointment, call (585) 786-8700 to speak with a friendly team member.