Although most people know to apply ice at the first sign of an injury, few understand the benefits of implementing hot and cold combination therapy into their daily routine. In fact, doctors, athletic trainers and physical therapists recommend hot/cold combination therapy as one of the most effective ways to prevent injuries and promote recovery. In this section THERA°PEARL explains why both hot and cold therapy is necessary for maintaining a strong and healthy body.

Acute vs. Chronic Injuries
The first step in treating an injury is determining which type of pain you are experiencing. Since recommended treatments for chronic and acute injuries vary, it is important to understand the differences between them.

Acute pain is usually sharp and occurs suddenly in response to an injury or bodily trauma. Although acute pain can range from mild to severe, it usually serves as a warning sign for an underlying threat to the body. Acute pain is temporary in nature and disappears when the source of the pain is healed.

Examples of acute injuries: Fractures, strains, sprains, bruises, burns, joint dislocations, cuts/abrasions/lacerations, etc.

Chronic pain usually builds up slowly over time, progressing from a mild, “nagging” pain to a much more severe (even crippling) condition if not treated properly. Chronic pain often results from the overuse of a specific area of the body, such as through exercise or work. Acute injuries can turn into chronic injuries if they are left untreated or do not heal properly.

Examples of chronic injuries: Tendonitis, arthritis, shin splints, tennis elbow, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.

When to apply COLD THERAPY When to apply HEAT THERAPY
Acute Injuries Acute Injuries
Immediately following an injury or trauma At least 48 hrs. after an injury, once swelling/bleeding has subsided
After physical activity Prior to physical activity
For pain relief To aid in healing process
Chronic Injuries Chronic Injuries
After physical activity Prior to physical activity
For pain relief

 

What are the benefits of cold therapy (aka cryotherapy)?
Applying cold to the body constricts the blood vessels at the application site, which is referred to as vasoconstriction. As a result, blood flow is decreased which helps reduce pain, swelling, inflammation and bruising.

Applications:
Swelling and inflammation
When an injury occurs, the body releases chemicals into the blood that flow to the injured area and cause inflammation. Applying cold reduces the flow of these chemicals to the injured tissue and helps minimize the onset of swelling. When ice is removed, the blood vessels expand again in response to the rise in temperature, which is referred to as vasodilation. As a result, blood flow increases. As “fresh” blood flows back into the injured tissues, it helps flush out the inflammation-causing chemicals that are lingering in the tissues.

Bruising
By slowing the flow of blood to damaged tissues, this limits the amount of bruising.

Pain
Applying cold to the body numbs nerve endings and decreases the sensation of pain. Cold therapy also helps reduce involuntary muscles spasm, which can be painful.

How to use cold therapy:
Cold therapy should be applied in intervals and limited to 20 minutes on and at least 20 minutes off. Prolonged exposure to ice beyond the doctor-recommended 20 minutes can cause tissue damage and frostbite.

When to use:
• After exercise or physical activity
• To treat pain associated with acute injuries
• To aid in the healing process of acute injuries, in conjunction with heat therapy.

What are the benefits of heat therapy (aka thermotherapy)?
Applying heat to the body dilates and expands the blood vessels at the application site, which is referred to as vasodilation. As a result, blood flow to the affected area is increased which promotes healing, increases flexibility and provides pain relief. However, it is important to note that since heat increases circulation, it should not be applied for at least 48 hours following an injury to prevent bleeding and inflammation from worsening.

Applications:
Healing
Since blood contains vital proteins, nutrients and oxygen that the body needs, stimulating blood flow can promote healing and speed recovery of damaged tissue.

Joint/muscle stiffness
Stimulating blood flow helps relax the affected joints and soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc., resulting in greater flexibility and range of motion. For this reason, doctors recommend that therapeutic heat be applied as a means of easing movement in order to prevent the occurrence of new injuries or the irritation of existing ones. Heat therapy is often used prior to exercise and to support rehabilitation or physical therapy.

Pain
Thermoreceptors are sensors in the body that detect changes in temperature. When heat is applied, heat-sensitive thermoreceptors block the body’s transmission of pain signals to the brain. This means that applying heat actually decreases the sensation of pain in the affected area.
How to use heat therapy: Heat therapy should be applied in intervals and limited to 20 minutes on and at least 20 minutes off. Excessive heat can potentially cause burns.

When to use:
• Prior to exercise or physical activity
• To treat pain associated with chronic injuries
• To aid in healing process of acute injuries, in conjunction with cold therapy.