Hot and Cold Therapy

Hot and Cold Therapy is frequently prescribed to facilitate faster healing, recovery, and relief from pain in the body.

The source of pain could be from a number of different causes, whether from an injury sustained in a car collision, sports trauma, chronic condition (such as arthritis), post-surgical wounds, or even an irritated spider bite.

Cold Compression Therapy 

This is used primarily to reduce painful inflammation at the point of injury. Muscle fibers contract when chilled, and this, coupled with gentle compression, reduces swelling. Cold therapy, when used correctly, also has a numbing effect, often alleviating a significant amount of pain. These main components of cold compression therapy are key to an accelerated recovery.

Heat Compression Therapy 

This is typically employed when relaxation and comfort is desired. Heat causes dilation in the body's blood vessels, and when more blood flow can reach the afflicted area, it brings increased oxygen along with it. This also encourages soothing relief from pain, promoting quick comfort and healing.

It is important to know when to use hot therapy and when to use cold therapy, and for how long. According to Healthline Newsletter, "As a general rule of thumb, use ice for acute injuries or pain, along with inflammation and swelling. Use heat for muscle pain or stiffness." 

Ice should not be applied for too long, as prolonged exposure to cold can counteract its therapeutic qualities. Apply several times for about 15-20 minutes each.

Heat Therapy treatments can generally be applied for up to 30 minutes per session.

The Hot & Cold Therapy System from Return2Fitness, designed for use on virtually all parts of the body, provides the ideal Hot and Cold Therapy tool for your rehabilitation needs. The insulated plush wrap comes complete with two heat and ice packs and an elastic belt to fit securely to most areas. The strap is fully adjustable, providing gentle compression. The pack is also comfortable to wear with a soft cotton backing.

The Hot & Cold Therapy System from Return2Fitness is also available on Amazon.

But let’s dive a little deeper into Hot & Cold Therapy.

What Is Heat Therapy?

In the sports and fitness world we hear about types of cold therapy all the time, but what about heat therapy?

Also called thermotherapy, heat therapy promotes the natural healing process for pain and therapeutic relief of muscle pain and spasms, joint stiffness or chronic pain. 

Not sure what heat therapy products are? Follow this link to see Return2Fitness’s selection of different heat therapy products

Why Is Heat Therapy Beneficial? 

Improves Circulation: Heat therapy causes blood vessels to dilate promoting blood flow. 

Removes Toxins: An increase in blood flow causes toxins to pull out of injured tissues more effectively. 

Increases Oxygen: Heat helps increase oxygen within the injured tissues to aid in its repair. Oxygen also reduces the carbon dioxide that can heighten acid levels in the tissue. Heat therapy can relieve pain from arthritis, tennis elbow, sinus headaches, foot strains, shoulder and back pain, and many more conditions! 

Moist Heat Therapy vs. Dry Heat Therapy?

Moist heat therapy offers these benefits: 

  • Delivers the most heat to the pain or discomfort due to water’s ability to hold in the heat during the transfer process.
  • The heat penetrates deeper into the muscles, joints and ligaments relieving pain sooner.
  • Blood flow and oxygen levels increase due to accelerated healing. - Skin will not dry out from application since moisture is contained. 

Dry heat therapy offers these benefits: 

  • Delivers enough heat to the area to relieve pain and discomfort.
  • Treatment can be affective and extremely mobile.
  • There is a wide variety of long-lasting temporary heat patches that you can purchase at your local pharmacy.

Using a combination of the two types of heat therapy may give you the best self-therapy results, rather than trying to weigh your options. However, you should always consult your physician about the proper treatment for your pain or chronic condition. 

When Should You Consider Heat Therapy?

Thermotherapy, more commonly known as 'heat therapy' may be used on areas of the body that suffer from diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and several other painful conditions.

Heat therapy is designed to aid the body’s own natural pain healing process.

It can be useful for the treatment of conditions like:

  • Joint Stiffness
  • Muscle Pain and Spasms
  • Chronic Pain

 It can aid in the treatment of other conditions that are less associated with pain like:

  • Poor Blood Circulation
  • Toxin Buildup in the Body
  • Increase Oxygen

 However, heat therapy is most commonly used to aid in conditions like:

  • Arthritis
  • Herniated Disk
  • Pinched Nerve
  • Cartilage Injuries
  • Planter Fasciitis Injuries
  • Bursitis

 There are several forms of heat therapy that include:

As you can see, this is a valuable rehabilitation tool.

The heat when penetrating the tissue in the affected area raises the tissue temperature, aiding oxygen, nutrients, and proteins to be carried to the area by the blood through a process called 'vasodilation'. Vasodilation aids in providing relief to discomfort in the affected area.

Another benefit of heat therapy is the increase of extensibility of collagen tissue. Lack of extensibility in joints is known to cause stiffness.

For muscle spasms, shortwave and/or microwave heat can be applied to the area where the spasm is occurring, speeding up the absorption of hematomas, allowing the stiff muscle to relax and stretch.

Ultrasounds cannot be absorbed enough in homogenous muscles to create extra blood flow. However, for deep tissue injuries, ultrasound is able to penetrate deeper than applying heat directly to the skin of the injured area.

After penetrating the skin, ultrasound begins to improve cellular function by causing tiny microscopic gas bubbles near the injured area to expand and contract quickly, speeding up the healing process.

Heat therapy combined with radiation treatments is also a valuable therapy tool for cancer patients.

Now, there are several types of products to apply heat therapy (both wet and dry heat). Wraps are one of the more commonly known products. They can come modified to fit shoulders, wrists, neck, ankles, back, and waist and you can find them here at Return2Fitness.

When Not To apply Heat Therapy? 

  • Do not apply to a fresh injury. Ice or cold therapy is for new injuries
  • If external tissue is sensitive - If your skin is red or hot to the touch
  • If there is swelling 

Heat therapy shouldn't be used on new swollen/inflamed injuries. It should only be applied to injuries that are a day old.

For new injuries that are inflamed cold should be applied first to relieve the swelling, after the swelling has decreased, a regiment of all heat, or a combination of both heat and cold can be used.

What is Cold Therapy?

One of the most important things you can do when you get a muscle or joint injury is to apply cold therapy.

Most experts say that cold therapy should be applied as soon as possible following a soft tissue injury and repeated at regular intervals for 48-72 hours.

Cooling the area after an injury relieves pain and reduces bleeding, swelling and muscle spasms. The cooling causes blood vessels in the area to constrict which means less flow of blood and other fluids that cause swelling.

Applying the appropriate cold therapy soon after a muscle sprain or strain also improves the recovery time. There are many ways that cold therapy can be applied. The best method may vary depending on the location and type of injury.

Re-usable Cold Packs: 

Re-usable cold packs are simple plastic pouches filled with a gel that can be refrozen. Needless to say, the pouch must be frozen before it can be used.

You should not apply the frozen pouch directly to the skin because it may cause ice burns. The pouch must be used in a special wrap or cloth before applied. To apply compression you need to use a wrap like the Soft Ice Universal Compression Wrap.

Instant Cold Packs: 

Instant Cold Packs contain a liquid and another inner pouch with chemicals. When you squeeze the pack and burst the inner pouch the chemical reaction creates a cooling effect.

The clear advantage of these packs is that they don't have to be frozen ahead of time. The disadvantage is that they can only be used once, and the cold effect may not last as long. They are a must for any athletic bag.

Cold Bags: 

Cold bags are very simple and yet very effective. They are a material pouch with a water proof lining. Ice cubes or crushed ice is then placed in the bag which can then be placed directly on the skin.

These bags work well because they easily mold to the shape of the joint. Some of these bags come with a compression wrap.

You may want to keep one of these bags in my athletic bag all the time since most athletic facilities have ice available.

Cooling Gels and Sprays: 

Gels such as Biofreeze or Cryoderm are applied directly to the skin to provide a cooling effect. These products also contain an analgesic to aid pain relief. They come in gels, roll-ons or sprays.

The products do work, but the cooling effect is minimal compared to ice packs and only the superficial tissues are cooled.

Continuous Cooling Systems: 

If you have had rotator cuff surgery or other joint surgery, chances are you have used a continuous cooling device.

They are simple in design but very effective since the cooling remains constant. Ice water is continuously pumped from an ice and water cooler into a compression wrap placed around the injured joint. They are typically used for recovery after surgery but can also be very effective for deep muscle sprains. 

The Importance of Cold Therapy

Cold therapy is the most effective and common practice for acute post injury healing.

When an injury has been sustained, it is vital for ice to be placed on the area of injury.  Ice helps decrease pain and swelling and promotes healing.

The concept of placing ice on an injury is practiced for several reasons including decreasing blood flow (vasoconstriction).  Vasoconstriction is the process of narrowing blood vessels which in turn decreases blood flow.  

By reducing blood flow to the area of injury, swelling decreases.  Decreasing swelling is important because it not only reduces pain and increases mobilization in the damaged area, but it prevents tissue damage from occurring.  

If inflammation or swelling is not slowed and tissue damage occurs, the injury will take longer to heal.

The Active Ice™ Cold Therapy System is an ideal cold therapy product that can be used on any part of the body. This system is composed of a cooler, pump, and bladder. The motorized pump circulates cold water from the cooler and delivers it to the bladder which is to be placed on the designated area of injury.

Optional compression wraps are also available to be utilized for specific body parts including the knee, calf, ankle, foot, back, shoulder, and elbow.

Overall, ice helps to reduce the amount of swelling that is induced by the inflammatory process after injury has occurred.  Whether you are an athlete or not cold therapy is an important method for promoting post injury healing.