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Dos and Don'ts of Hot and Cold Therapy

  • Targeted Pain Relief
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When you have aches and pains, you might reach for an ice pack or a heating pad to provide you with a more comfortable feeling. However, did you know that certain forms of discomfort call for one over the other? Follow this guide to learning when to use heat and when to use ice to reduce your discomfort.

Achy shoulder? Warm it up with some heat.Achy shoulder? Warm it up with some heat.

Heat Therapy

Do use heat when you have stiff joints or muscle discomfort.
Heat opens blood vessels and increases blood flow. As a result, it can help with range of motion in stiff muscles and joints and make them feel more loose and flexible again.

Don't apply heating pad directly to skin.
Always keep a thin layer between your skin and the heating element to reduce your chances of burns. For the same reason, never lay on top of the heating pad. You should apply it to the area for no longer than 20 minutes for best results.

Do try to keep a comfortable temperature when using heat therapy.
The ideal temperature should be just hot enough that it feels warm on your skin but doesn't burn. Use an electric heating pad if possible, as it provides a steady level of heat.

Don't expect heat therapy to be a cure all.
Heat therapy can help you feel more comfortable, but it shouldn't take the place of other forms of treatment. Check with your doctor if you suspect a more serious issue.

Cold Therapy

Do use cold therapy on swelling and bruising.
Cold temperatures restrict blood vessels, which can help reduce inflammation. 

"Always keep a layer between your skin and a cold pack."

Don't apply ice for longer than 20 minutes.
Always keep a layer between your skin and a cold pack, and never leave ice on one area for too long. Be sure to remove the cold pack after 20 minutes and wait at least 10 minutes before reapplying. 

Do use cold therapy within the first few days of discomfort.
Ice and cold packs should be applied within the first day or two of discomfort to help with inflammation. 

Don't use cold therapy in place of medical help.
If you've injured yourself badly, or even if you're not sure, it's important to get checked by a physician before administering hot or cold therapy on your own. Your doctor will be able to advise you on how to properly alternate between heat and cold to feel more comfortable.