Treating with Ice or Heat? Pain & Injury Management

When you’ve got a pulled muscle, a sprain, or any other type of injury, therapeutic icing and heating (cryotherapy and thermotherapy) may be able to reduce the pain and swelling, but there’s so much confusion over which is best. A cheap and easy self-treatment option, we’re going to help you figure out when to use heat therapy or a cold compress. 

Cold Therapy

Also known as cryotherapy, using a cold compress for a maximum of 10 minutes immediately following an injury is a great way to inflammation in the area which can significantly reduce swelling and tenderness. This is particularly useful if your injury is around a joint or tendon. You can use a bag of frozen peas or an ice pack wrapped in a towel or tee shirt.  It is very important to put a layer of material between your skin and the ice nobody wants an ice burn as well as a sore joint or tendon. To reduce oedema and dull any pain you’re feeling. 

Heat Therapy

Heat therapy, or thermotherapy, works by improving the blood flow and circulation to the affected area by increasing the temperature. This increased temperature soothes and relaxes muscles.. Heat therapy is best used for muscles, stress, and chronic pain, but to break it down even further, there is also ‘dry heat’ and ‘moist heat’. Dry heat sources include heating pads or packs and are easy to apply. Moist heat includes steamed towels and hot baths which are slightly more effective and may require less application.  

One of the main benefits of heat therapy is that you can choose to apply it regionally, locally, or over the whole body. Local therapy is best for a stiff muscle and can easily be treated with a hot water bottle while regional treatment with a steamed towel is great for larger areas of stiff muscles.  

Contrasting Therapy

Alternating between heat and cold therapy is called contrasting therapy and is great for stimulating the muscles to facilitate injury recovery. However, it must be done effectively and is not recommended for injuries within the first 72 hours or injuries that are still red, warm and swollen as it may aggravate more than heal. After waiting at least three days after an injury, the rationale behind contrasting therapy makes a lot of sense. Icing will reduce any remaining swelling while heat therapy will pump blood and relax the muscles for more movement. 

Before applying contrasting therapy, please call our team at Gonnet Chiropractic on (07) 3886 4300 or seek medical advice from your local GP. 

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Knowing when to use a cold compress over a hot towel can drastically boost the healing process and increase your recovery time. If either treatment is making your pain or injury worse, stop immediately. If, after a few days, the treatment has not made a difference to your injury, please make an appointment with our team at Gonnet Chiropractic for a consultation. We will be able to assess the injury and create a treatment plan that will have you back on your feet in no time. 


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