Treating Pain with Heat and Cold Therapy

Both the Heat and Cold Can Relieve Pain

Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain. Whether back pain, leg pain, arthritis, or some other condition, pain impacts your life in various ways. Often, chronic pain causes people to miss work. It also affects their mood and overall quality of life. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can treat your pain from home, such as heat and cold therapy.

Treating pain with hot and cold has proven an effective way to relieve pain. Many pain management doctors will recommend heat and cold therapy for those suffering from conditions ranging from pulled muscles to arthritis to joint pain.

Heat and cold therapy provide pain relief in an accessible and cheap way. Plus, there are multiple options to choose from, so you can find the most convenient way to treat your pain. However, it’s essential to know when to use either heat or cold.

Even though each is great for pain relief, they do different things to your body and provide you with different benefits. In some circumstances, a single treatment may call for both hot and cold.

At Texas Partners Healthcare Group, we understand how debilitating chronic pain can be. It impacts all facets of your life, including your personal and professional lives. Your productivity diminishes, as well as your quality of life. Heat and cold therapy can provide much-needed pain relief to those suffering from a range of conditions. However, if your pain becomes unbearable, contact the pain management clinic at Texas Partners Healthcare Group and let us help.

Heat and Cold Therapy Benefits

As you can tell by their names, heat therapy and cold therapy are widely different. After all, they are opposites of each other. They affect your body and problem areas in different ways. Certain types of pain may benefit from one over the other, as well. It is essential to learn which one will relieve your chronic pain better.

Heat Therapy

Heat therapy improves circulation by dilating blood vessels, which promotes increased blood flow. Improving circulation eliminates lactic acid waste buildup, which occurs after working out. Heating the problem area also soothes pain and discomfort while increasing the flexibility of your muscles.

Heat therapy has proven to relax and soothe tense or tightened muscles, as well as heal damaged tissue. It is typically more effective at treating chronic muscle pain or joint pain as opposed to cold therapy.

Types of Heat Therapy

There are two types of heat therapy you can choose from: dry heat and moist heat.

  • Dry Heat: Also referred to as conducted heat therapy, dry heat includes the use of heating pads, dry heating packs, and saunas.
  • Moist Heat: Also referred to as convection heat therapy, moist heat includes the use of steamed towels or cloth, moist heating packs, and hot baths. Moist heat might be a little more efficient than dry heat and often requires much less time to work for the same relief.

Local therapy is best for small areas of pain, such as strained or sprained muscles. Small heating pads or warm water bottles will work. Regional therapy is best for more widespread pain. Steamed towels, large heating pads, or heat wraps are best for this pain. Saunas and hot baths are examples of full-body treatments.

You should normally apply heat to the problem area for 20 minutes at a time, up to three times a day, unless a pain management doctor suggests otherwise.

When Not to Use Heat Therapy

As we mentioned earlier, there are certain situations that call for either heat or cold therapy. There are some instances where heat therapy is not advised. If the area in question has suffered bruising or is swollen, cold therapy might be a better option. Additionally, do not use heat therapy on an area with an open wound.

There are certain preexisting conditions that may cause the body to react poorly to heat therapy, such as:

Heat therapy can be useful to treat:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Strains and sprains
  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis
  • Stiff muscles
  • Muscles spasms in the neck and back

If you are unsure whether you can use heat therapy or not, contact your pain management doctor to learn more.

Cold Therapy

Cold therapy is also known as cryotherapy. When you apply something cold to a problem area, it reduces blood flow, which slows the rate of inflammation and reduces the likelihood of swelling and tissue damage.

It also works as a form of local anesthetic, numbing sore tissues. Cold also slows down nerve activity, preventing pain signals from transmitting to the brain. Ice works best to treat swollen or inflamed muscles or joints. It functions at its best within 48 hours after an injury.

Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) are the standard treatment for most sports injuries.

Types of Cold Therapy

Much like heat therapy, there are multiple ways to apply cold therapy. Some treatment options you can choose from include:

  • Ice packs
  • Frozen gel packs
  • Coolant sprays
  • Ice massage
  • Ice bath
  • Cryochamber

Remember, you should never apply ice directly onto your skin. It can cause damage, such as frostbite. Always wrap it in cloth before application. You can apply an ice pack or frozen vegetables onto a small area of pain locally or use a larger ice pack on widespread pain regionally.

Full-body treatments include ice baths and cryotherapy chambers.

When Not to Use Cold Therapy

As is the case with heat, cold can be dangerous if not properly monitored. For example, people with sensory disorders should not use cold therapy at home since there condition prevents them from feeling certain sensations, which prevents them from noticing if something is wrong.

Additionally, you should not use cold therapy if you have:

  • Diabetes
  • Stiff joints or muscles (this will make things worse)
  • Vascular disease
  • Poor circulation due to another preexisting condition
  • An open wound or blistered skin
  • A risk of cramping

If you are already cold or the area in question is numb, you should not apply cold. People who are hypersensitive to the cold should also avoid this form of therapy.

Athletes often use ice massage, ice bath, or cryotherapy chambers to reduce their risk of exercise-induced muscle damage.

Cold therapy is also beneficial for:

Remember, only apply cold therapy for short periods, no longer than 20 minutes. If not, you can cause nerve, tissue, or muscle damage. 10-15 minutes is a good time limit.

Potential Risks

As with most things, there are potential risks to heat and cold therapy. While these treatments are often safe and can be down on your own at home, you must still be cautious.

For heat therapy:

  • If you use heat that is too hot, you can burn the skin. Aim to utilize a warm temperature instead of hot.
  • If you have an infection, heat can worsen the condition and increase the likelihood of it spreading.
  • It can increase swelling.

For cold therapy:

  • If applied for too long, cold can cause nerve, tissue, and muscle damage.
  • Cold therapy slows your blood flow, which can be dangerous for those with poor circulation.

Fortunately, heat and cold therapy benefits often outweigh the risks. Both therapies are effective ways to treat chronic pain. However, if your pain persists even after heat or cold therapy, contact the pain management clinic at Texas Partners Healthcare Group and let us help you find pain relief.