Therapy: Heat Vs. Cold

Heat and cold therapy are basic components of any rehabilitation program. Knowing when and how to use them is useful in treating injuries.

Basic Principles: Cold therapy is used to treat injuries in the acute and sub-acute phase (0 to 5 days). Benefits include a reduction in swelling and bruising by reducing blood flow to the area, as well as a mild numbing effect.

Heat therapy is generally used to treat injuries after the sub-acute phase. Benefits include an increase in circulation to the area, speeding the clean-up and repair process. This increase in blood flow also promotes warming of surrounding tissues that may have become stiff and contracted.

How To Use: Cold therapy has many forms but most involve ice; an ice pack, ice bath, or ice massage. Exposure to ice should be limited to approximately 20 minutes of each hour. A barrier should be placed between the skin and an ice pack.

Home heat therapy involves electric heating pads, moist towels or pads, hot water bottles, or dry adhesive pads. Exposure should also be limited to about 20 minutes of each hour.

Be careful not to burn the skin. A barrier between you and the heat source is a good idea. Remember, if the injury is less than 4 days old, do not use heat therapy.

General Guidelines: Ice new injuries. For chronic problems, heat the area before activity and ice it after. limited to about 20 minutes of each hour. Be careful not to burn the skin…

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