The hot vs cold therapy debate can seem complicated. Here are some simple rules to follow;
• Use Cold Therapy immediately after an injury to reduce swelling and inflammation.
• Do not use Cold Therapy on stiff muscles or joints.
• Use Hot Therapy to relax or sooth sore muscles and to increase range of motion.
• Do not use Hot Therapy on an injury that is already warm to the touch.
Those 4 guidelines are simple ways to determine whether to use hot or cold therapy, however, there is a lot more science behind the decision.
As a general guideline, sudden acute injuries such as sprained ankles, muscle tears, bruising or inflammation should be treated with cold therapy as soon as possible. Why? In the case of sudden injury, the soft tissues surrounding the area often bruises, swells and inflammation occurs. The application of cold therapy can help to reduce this.
Cold therapy constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow when applied. This reduced blood flow limits the amount of fluid around the injury, which in turn minimises swelling. Cold therapy can also have a numbing effect, which can help to decrease the pain.
Cold therapy should be used for a further 3-5 days following an injury. Cold packs are also recommended for treating overuse injuries, common in athletes. Apply a cold pack after activity to help limit any inflammation that happens as a result of the activity. Ice packs should not be used before exercise.
We offer a range of single use and reusable ice packs, for pitch side we recommend single use instant ice packs for convenience however, if you are regularly using ice therapy then we have a range of reusable packs.
Sore, stiff muscles are best treated with hot therapy because the heat helps to ease and relax tired muscles. Heat can also be used before exercise to improve mobility and increase joint elasticity by essentially starting the warming up process before the exercise begins. Many products can be used both hot or cold, meaning that the same pack can be heated to provide hot therapeutic relief for arthritis, muscle spasms, cramps, and more. Try the Firstaid4sport Hot/Cold Pack with Sleeve and Strap for the added convenience of having the pack held in place, leaving your hands free to get on with other tasks whilst gaining the benefits of heat therapy. Remember, heat can be used prior to exercise but should not be used immediately after physical activity.
Alternating Hot and Cold Therapy
After the first 3 to 5 days of applying cold therapy for an acute injury, its recommend that you alternate hot and cold therapy for effective pain relief and promotion of recovery. The expansion (from heat therapy) and contraction (from cold therapy) acts like a pump. During the hot therapy treatment, the blood vessels expand, increasing circulation and the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the injury. During the cold therapy treatment, the blood vessels constrict, reducing circulation which allows the injured area to soak up the nutrient rich blood before it moves away from the area. In summary, hot and cold therapy work cohesively to help you recover faster.