Injury First Aid: Hot v. Cold

It’s actually a question we get all the time, what should I do for my pain, hot or cold? Well the answer depends on several different factors, so let’s take a look at both hot and cold therapy and what they treat best, as well as when to avoid them.

Hot - Using heat to treat injuries essentially does one thing, it improves circulation due to increased temperature in the area. This increased temperature can help to soothe aching muscles, improve flexibility and helps to speed the healing of damaged tissues. Whether it be a heating pad, electric heating blanket, sauna, steamed towel or even just a hot bath the real temperature you're after is closer to warm than hot, to avoid burns. Heat therapy can be applied for longer periods than cold therapy, with most treatments recommended to be between 20 minutes to 2 hours. You should avoid using heat therapy when the injury has a lot of swelling, as this would more effectively be treated with cold therapy. Also, avoid heat when dealing with an open wound, or if you have a preexisting condition that may leave you open to unintentional burns, like diabetes or certain vascular diseases.

Cold - Cold therapy helps to treat injuries that have just occured, as opposed to heat, which treats aching and stiffness. Cold therapy works in exactly the opposite manner as heat therapy, slowing circulation and decreasing inflammation and nerve activity to the area. You can use ice packs, cooling sprays, and even ice baths (usually reserved for marathon runners) to help reduce pain. You should never apply ice directly to the skin because it can cause cell damage. Always wrap ice or ice pack in a thin towel to prevent skin contact. It’s also important to apply cold therapy for shorter periods of time than heat therapy. Cold should be applied for no longer than 20 minutes followed by a period of rest of no shorter than 40 minutes before reapplying cold.

So the short answer is, if the injury just happened use ice to cool the area, decrease pain and inflammation, but if you're experiencing aching and stiffness from earlier activities go ahead and apply some smoothing heat. Of course if pain persists or is extreme please see a medical professional as soon as you can to make sure the injury isn’t worse than originally thought.

Ankle & Foot Associates, LLC has 17 offices in Georgia and South Carolina to better serve our patients, so if you or a loved one is experiencing foot or ankle pain just give us a call, we’re happy to help you get back on your feet again.

#softtissueinjuries #ankleinjuries

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