The importance of hot and cold therapy
Both hot and cold therapy are important for treating injuries. But the timeline for using either treatment matters for an athlete to reap the most benefits. When appropriately used, hot and cold therapy can help to reduce the impact of an injury. Cold treatments are associated with reducing blood flow and inflammation to an injury site. When used correctly, cold therapy can minimize the potential risk of tissue damage. Conversely, hot therapy can improve blood flow and aid in muscle relaxation. So when should an athlete use cold and hot therapy?
Cold therapy within 48 hours of an injury
As a general rule, cold therapy should be applied immediately after an injury. Doing so can help to limit swelling and even minimize pain from the injury. As long as the injury or pain isn’t severe, athletes can use an ice pack to numb the injury and prevent the need for pain medications. Good cold therapy options include:
- Chemical cold packs or cold compresses
- Cold water immersion
- Ice cubes to massage injuries
Except for ice massages, people should use a barrier between ice and skin. Good options include cloth or towels.
Using heat to control pain
Heat is a useful tool to soothe sore muscles. Dry or moist heat are the best options to use for injury recovery. Again, like with cold therapy, caution is encouraged. Avoid using very hot heat sources. Instead, experts agree that heat sources should be warm. Good examples include steam baths, heating pads, and moist towels. Many experts agree that moist heat is the best option since less application time is needed as compared to dry heat.
Tips for best results
Both hot and cold therapy treatments are great for injury recovery. But for best results, athletes should remember the following recommendations. New injuries should first be treated with cold therapy and then regular cold applications for up to 48 hours. Open wounds shouldn’t be treated with heat therapy. Additionally, cold therapy isn’t the best option to soothe stiff muscles. People with poor circulation should also avoid cold therapy treatments. Experts recommend limiting cold therapy treatments to 20 minutes. Likewise, depending on the method, heat therapy can be applied anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours.
Stay in the game
Getting injured is unenjoyable, but an injury doesn’t have to sideline an athlete indefinitely. Immediately after an injury, cold therapy should be applied. But as time progresses, hot therapy is ideal for keeping an athlete’s muscles relaxed and loose. However, for optimal recovery results, athletes should speak to a physician or physical therapist and follow any recommendations provided.