Any injury that causes more than momentary pain can also induce a fair amount of stress. Our natural preference is to avoid pain as much as possible. If we cannot do so, focus then turns to the fastest way to find relief. Where many people go is to their freezer, or to their heating pad. Here, we want to discuss the value of heat and cold therapy, and how to choose a modality that is right for you.
One of the reasons why heat and cold therapy is so valuable is because it’s convenient – and it works. By using hot pads or cold packs, it may be possible for some people to forego the need for any type of medication, over-the-counter or not. In addition to managing pain, these completely natural forms of therapy also complement the body’s natural healing capabilities.
When using heat or cold to manage pain, the matter at hand is how old the injury is. When an injury is new and is causing swelling and pain, cold therapy may have the greatest effect. If pain has been ongoing for more than a day or is chronic, heat may offer the best relief. Of course, every situation is different. These are general guidelines that tend to work for most people. If you do not obtain the desired relief from one type of therapy, switch to the other.
Heat and Cold: What They Do
Cold Therapy for Inflammation
Humans have been using cold therapy for far longer than we may imagine. If you suffered a fall or twisted ankle as a child, chances are your injury was addressed with an ice pack or other very cold object. The benefit of cold therapy is that low temperatures reduce inflammation. As such, cold therapy can improve comfort. Additionally, research has shown that the brain can interpret either pain or cold, but not both at the same time, and cold is more powerful than pain.
Heat Therapy for Blood Flow
Whereas cold therapy slows circulation to an injured area, heat hastens it. The increase in blood flow to an injury signals to the body that it is ready to repair and regenerate. Heat has long been used to manage sore muscles and spasms in older injuries. In addition to soothing muscles with warmth and blood flow, heat therapy also moves lactic acid out of injured tissues more quickly, which further assists are healing.
Back injuries and chronic back pain may need more than heat or cold therapy for full recovery. If you are questioning your need for medical care, call our NYC orthopedic office at 212-606-1004. We’re happy to assist you.