"Patients often ask me about the benefits of heat and cold for their aches and pains.
Just a few weeks ago, Chick Rader called to ask if he should use heat or cold to treat his daughter’s ankle. Celia, a point guard for Scranton Prep’s girls basketball team, had sprained her ankle the night before. The answer was simple: ice with rest, compression, elevation and immobilization. Once she could walk without pain, rest and immobilization were not necessary.
Today, I’ll try to answer some common questions about the role that heat and cold may play in easing everyday ailments.
Q: Should I use heat or cold for my problem?
A: This depends on a few factors. If your pain is recent — within hours to a few days — and the result of a trauma, cold is an easy choice.
The recent trauma has most likely caused very noticeable pain — probably constant — along with significant swelling, redness and warmth to touch. Cold is very effective in reducing these symptoms by causing blood vessel vasoconstriction. This reduces blood flow to the painful area and thus reduces swelling, warmth and, consequently, pain.
If your injury is not new and has lasted a few weeks or longer, heat is the more appropriate choice. Since the injury is not acute — not within hours to a few days — inflammation does not need to be controlled. Heat would be more appropriate because of its ability to cause blood vessel vasodilation. This increases blood flow to the injured area, boosting tissue temperature, promoting muscle relaxation and accelerating the body’s healing response.
Q: When else should I use heat or cold?
A: Heat is helpful to relax and warm up muscles before activities like work, sports or recreation. A warm muscle is better prepared to work efficiently and less likely to be injured when stressed.
After a long day of work or strenuous exercise, cold application is wise to minimize cumulative damage. It’s a common scene on a baseball telecast: a pitcher sitting in the dugout after his exit from the game with a bag of crushed ice wrapped around his elbow and shoulder.
Some schools of thought promote using heat and cold successively in order to “flush out” the injured area. Although commonly recommended, this suggestion has not proved to be more effective than either heat or cold in isolation for controlling swelling, muscle spasms or pain." (Continued via Scranton The Times-Tribune) [Ergonomics Resources]