Heat Vs Ice For Pain And Inflammation Usage Guidelines

Icing or heating joints can provide pain relief and reduce swelling. But knowing whether to go cold or hot — and knowing how to use each form of ‘thermal therapy’ — can be tricky.

Sometimes traditional home solutions are exactly what the doctor suggested. An example of this would be to use either ice or heat for joint pain.

If your knee or shoulder is feeling rigid, sore, or has an uncomfortable heat sensation, reducing or increasing the temperature of the area in combination with taking medication, physical therapy, and exercise may help with alleviating the symptoms.

Dr Nilanjana Bose, a board-certified rheumatologist at the Rheumatology Center of Houston, claims that the relief offered is only a symptom masquerading as a cure. The discomfort may last, but the application of heat or ice may give temporary relief, and with other treatments, the area should eventually heal.

Figuring out when to apply cold or hot therapy to pain can be tricky, especially when it is new and unfamiliar to you.

It may be beneficial to understand what techniques could bring you short-term comfort in case you can not immediately schedule an appointment with your medical specialist if you have chronic aches. Even so, it is still best to consult with a medical practitioner.

What is the best time to apply ice or heat to reduce joint discomfort? The source of your joint pain and the kind of pain affect the best remedy for it, though individual inclinations are also essential. No one is more familiar with your body than you are.

Heat and Ice Therapy

Thermal therapy, otherwise known as heat therapy or ice therapy, is the process of applying either hot or cold to a part of your body that is experiencing pain, stiffness, and other arthritis symptoms to reduce their effects.

Many individuals who have arthritis have seen positive results from incorporating both heat and cold into their treatment plan. This regimen can help to relieve both the wear on joints that is caused by osteoarthritis and the joint pain and swelling associated with inflammatory arthritis, which can be caused by the immune system attacking a joint. This section involves situations such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and axial spondyloarthritis.

For Eddie A., suffering from psoriatic arthritis, warmth from a bath is a go-to method of taking care of himself. Before his PsA diagnosis, he remembers having to take a long bath every morning for up to 45 minutes to be able to use his hands properly in preparation for the day.

Deanna K., who also experiences psoriatic arthritis, declared that both heat and cold are essential elements in her life to CreakyJoints.

In the newest instructions from the American College of Rheumatology, heat or cold therapy is suggested as a potential treatment for osteoarthritis in the knee, hip, or hand. The evidence suggests that trying it would probably not cause much damage, but it is uncertain if it will be a magical solution.

Despite their differences, both heat and cold can decrease inflammation and make joint pain and rigidity more bearable. They accomplish this in various ways and may have distinct applications. It should be noted that there is not a great deal of scientific evidence that can be used to determine when one form is better to use than the other.

Dr Bose comments that the resolution of this issue requires more instinct and understanding than scientific knowledge. She claims that in general, patients are aware of what helps to ease their joint and muscle soreness. Evidence that exists so far suggests that individuals reduce their pain when using either of the two techniques.

When to Use Heat vs. Ice

Conventional wisdom (and googling) says this:

  • Cold therapy reduces blood flow to the area, which can decrease swelling and inflammation. This can be especially soothing if you have an acute injury — say, your joints hurt worse than usual because you were gardening all weekend.
  • Heat therapy increases blood flow to the area, which helps blood vessels dilate, drawing in more oxygen and nutrients. This can be especially soothing for stiff joints, especially for people who experience morning stiffness because of arthritis.

According to the Cleveland Clinic article, they recommend starting off treating an acute injury, such as a strained muscle or an injured tendon, with ice to reduce inflammation and provide relief from the pain. Once the swelling has subsided, warmth can be used to help loosen up the area.

When making the decision between using ice or heat for a medical issue, the type of problem must be taken into consideration, according to Brett Smith, DO, a rheumatologist from Blount Memorial Physicians Group located in Alcoa, Tennessee.

You are attempting to achieve the complete opposite result of what is taking place. If your body is swollen, you should attempt to reduce the swelling to reduce the pain. If you don’t have any physical swelling, then you should try to warm it up to improve the circulation of blood, which can help with recovery.

The application of hot and cold treatments may decrease how much pain the brain notices, thus providing analgesia.

Remember that there are no exact guidelines as to when to utilize cold or heat treatment for aches caused by arthritis. If you have a preference for one thing over another, choose the option that works best for you.

How To Use Ice And Heat For Pain

It is possible to use over-the-counter products or create home remedies to apply heat and cold to the body.

The process generally known as cryotherapy typically includes utilizing frozen gel packs, a bag with crushed ice, mixed vegetables, or immersing a body part in an icy bath or container.

It is recommended that to avoid frostbite, any application of ice or a cold material should not exceed 10-15 minutes, depending on the type and temperature.

Do not place ice directly on the skin, and if feeling stupor or your skin develops a yellow tinge, remove the ice at once and begin rewarming the skin.

At-home thermal therapy typically includes the use of a heating pad, a hot water bottle, or warm damp towels. Thermotherapy, also referred to as heat therapy, may be beneficial for easing aches and pains in particular parts of the body or treating injuries.

Using a hot tub or sauna can be an effective approach to applying heat treatment across a bigger region of the body.

Heat treatments can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes, or longer if the heat is intense and the means of heating is specific.

For instance, you could keep a hot pack on your neck for a quarter of an hour, and utilize a heating pad on your back for half an hour at a low-medium temperature as you rest on the sofa.

Would you prefer to use ice or heat for any swelling and pain? Let’s get into detail about when to use heat vs ice in different situations:

When To Use Ice Vs Heat For Pain

Here are some guidelines for when to use ice vs heat for pain:

Use Ice for Acute Injuries

Applying ice to the muscle during the immediate aftermath of a strain is especially essential.

Once the injury has occurred, it is important to apply ice and maintain regular ice treatment over the first 24 to 48 hours following the incident to be able to control the recovery process and lessen any swelling or secondary effects.

Ice treatment is effective by decreasing blood circulation to the area that has been cared for. Icing can be used to reduce swelling and pain resulting from inflammation and this can lead to increased flexibility and movement.

Ice may help to decrease pain temporarily by decreasing nerve activity. Pain impulses travel to the brain from pain receptors called nociceptors and if this activity is lessened, the pain impulses will be reduced.

Essentially, by decreasing inflammation and numbing nerve signals, putting ice onto an injury like a pulled muscle, twist, stretch, or break can lessen the hurt associated with it. Through this process, ice can serve as a short-term numbing agent.

Use Ice for Swollen Joints or Tendonitis

Applying ice to a joint or a tendon can be beneficial. These areas are especially susceptible to swelling, which can limit mobility and make it harder to move due to the diminished amount of room to accommodate the added amount of fluid.

Tendonitis is a condition characterized by the swelling or irritation of the tendon, the fibrous cord that joints muscle to bone. It is usually caused by doing the same movements over and over again, particularly when it comes to activities like running, tennis, cycling, etc.

Aching and swelling connected with inflammation of the tendons may stop you from moving freely, yet icing can help reduce swelling and temporarily alleviate the hurting.

Use Ice Right After a Workout

It is advisable to utilize ice as soon as possible after physical activity to lessen the effects of post-exercise muscle pain (DOMS). It is believed that heat therapy is effective by raising blood flow to the area being heated.

Heat therapy can assist in healing while also relieving muscle tightness, augmenting muscle suppleness, and lessening the acuteness of pain. This is because blood flow carries oxygen and essential nutrients to cells as well as taking away waste products such as metabolic byproducts and cellular fracture material from harmed cells.

Use Heat to Ease Tight or Stiff Muscles or Menstrual Cramps

Typically, while ice is ordinarily suggested for sudden injuries and to decrease inflammation, heat can be useful in assuaging chronic pain and making muscles less rigid.

As an example, if you have experienced a strain in the lumbar area or suffer from menstrual cramps, then a hot pad placed on the area can help to bring comforting heat that reduces and comforts the soreness and pain.

Use Heat After Acute Swelling Has Subsided

It is usually suggested that a mixture of both hot and cold should be used alternatively when dealing with tissue damage such as strains, sprains, and pulled muscles. It is advisable to delay applying any heat to the injury until the swelling has gone down, generally taking between 24 to 72 hours after the injury has happened.

Using both heat and ice interchangeably can be the most advantageous method for mitigating the muscle soreness associated with exercise-induced DOMS.

Studies indicate that contrast water baths can be effective in reducing muscular injury caused by physical activity, the main source of DOMS.

Use Heat On Tendinosis

Though tendonitis and tendinosis both produce anguish and redness in the tendons, tendinosis is a long-term issue caused by the breakdown of a tendon.

Cleveland Clinic suggests that heat should be used when dealing with tendinosis instead of ice to improve joint stiffness.

When Not To Use Heat For Pain Or Injuries

In some cases, applying heat may be ineffective or even not allowed.

The Cleveland Clinic warns against using any kind of heat on new injuries as it can cause further swelling.

Therefore, you should not apply heat to any area that is inflamed or contused unless advised to do so by your physician or physical therapist.

It is vital that heat is not applied to an open wound and one must be extremely careful if they have delicate skin, are easily burned, or lack sensation in the area.

Certain ailments that require additional consideration include diabetes, multiple sclerosis, skin irritation, cellulitis, deep vein blood clot, and circulatory ailments.

If you have low blood pressure or are expecting a baby, it is wise to use caution when engaging in whole-body heat treatments, such as soaking in a hot tub or spending time in a sauna.

Generally, the precise technique for treating an injury with either heat or cold is based on how serious the wound is and how much it is impacting you.

The scope and types of exercises that you can engage in will be dictated by the intensity of your soreness and its cause (muscle strain, fracture, general muscle pain, tendonitis, etc.) as well as its point of origin.

Consulting your medical practitioner or physical therapist is the ideal way of making sure you are utilizing heat and cold properly to foster healing.

Other options for dealing with swelling and injuries besides using cold or hot compresses may be needed, including taking anti-inflammatory or pain-reducing drugs, as well as taking time to rest, wearing a brace, or changing your activity level depending on the cause of the pain.

How Often Should I Use Ice or Heat for Joint Pain

As long as one is judicious regarding which kind of therapy they are using and cautious when it comes to how they are utilizing it, Dr Torres-Panchame states that it is “all right to employ these treatments multiple times throughout the day.”

The treatment doesn’t have to be conducted in the traditional “sit-on-the-couch-with-your-leg-up” manner.

You may have already experienced the advantages of thermal therapy without being aware of it. If you find that bathing in hot water each morning helps ease the discomfort of your joints, then you are already experiencing the advantages of using heat as a form of therapy.

Patients have stated that using hot water to wash their hands throughout the day may provide fast relief. Some folks say they actually enjoy washing dishes after meals because the warmth generated during the task is soothing.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Ice and heat therapy can provide an easy way to manage aches, as well as being an essential element of your self-care program; however, it is highly recommended that you contact a healthcare professional if you develop or worsen joint pains.

Situations in which applying either cold or hot temperatures was effective enough in reducing your symptoms in the past but don’t anymore require further examination, according to Dr Bose. She insists that if one is not experiencing any benefit, alarm bells should be ringing. Perhaps there is something more profound on the inside, or this could require more thorough treatment, rather than just surface treatment.

It may be an indication that the medications and other treatments you are taking are not doing their job properly. Dr Bose suggests that this may be a sign of your arthritis getting worse. Either way, it’s better to know.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button