A common question we get asked a lot in the clinic is whether or not you should use hot or cold for an injury. Both of these treatments will help to reduce pain, however, there are certain types of injuries for which you should use either hot or cold.
Heat increases the circulation and elasticity in your tissues by widening your blood vessels in a process called vasodilation. Heat is best used for chronic pain, muscle soreness, pain in your joints and is especially good for back and neck pain as it reduces muscle tightness and spasm. Wheat bags, hot water bottles and hot towels are all perfectly fine ways of applying heat to an injured area. Do not use heat for an acute injury because it can increase inflammation and delay the early stages of healing.
If you have suffered a new injury or have acute pain try icing it first. If you don’t have a fancy cold pack to pull out of the freezer use the next best thing… a bag of frozen peas! Ice is the best immediate treatment to calm down damaged tissues that are swollen, red, hot and inflamed. Cold therapy narrows the blood vessels in a process called vasoconstriction which in turn restricts the flow of blood and reduces the amount of swelling and inflammation at the site of an injury. Ice will also temporarily reduce nerve activity, which can also relieve pain.
If heat is for relaxing muscles and ice is for a new injury, what do you use for a newly injured muscle I hear you ask!? We would recommend you start with ice for the first few days to help reducing the inflammation and then switch heat after that to help with muscle soreness.