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HOT VS COLD PACKS

 
  

A common question I get from my patients in Greenville SC is if they should use heat or ice at home? This answer is usually pretty simple based on the diagnosis, but let’s answer it in detail here for you reading this at home. Before reading the below details, please ask your medical expert if heat therapy or cryotherapy (ice) therapy is right for you. Purposed Physical Therapy takes no legal responsibilities for any harm you cause to yourself.
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Why heat therapy?

  • The positive physiological changes that occur with heat are: a decrease in pain to the area due to inhibition of the A delta and C nerve fibers via activation of the A beta fibers, a decrease in joint stiffness due to increased elasticity of the surround soft-tissues, a decrease in muscle tension and spasms due to decrease firing of the muscle spindle and increase firing of the GTO fibers, and an increase in tissue healing due to increase of metabolic processes and blood flow (the healing agent) to the area.
  • The negative physiological changes that occur with heat are: an increase in swelling due to increases in metabolic processes and blood flow, and a temporary decrease in muscle strength due to analgesic effect.
  • So when should you never use heat therapy? Never use on an acute (recent) injury/trauma, an open wound, an area that has swelling; an area of no sensation, an area with impaired circulation, an area of deep vein thrombophlebitis (blood clots), an area where there are malignant tumors, on an individual who hemorrhages, on the stomach of a pregnant woman, an individual with thin skin, or on an individual with cardiac insufficiencies. There are more situations to never use heat therapy, but those are the main things I can currently think of.
  • So when should you use heat therapy and how do you use it? It would be recommended to use heat on chronically sore or tight muscles and joints, when needing to relax an area of the body, or as a way to warm up the tissues before movement. Never apply a heat pack directly to the skin. Always have a barrier between the skin and heat pack – like a towel, shirt, pillow case, etc. Do not lay on a heat pack since it is hard to feel the sensation of burning. It is best to apply for 10-20 minutes at a time, but check the skin every 5 minutes. It is normal for the skin to turn red, but stop if you begin seeing or feeling signs of burns or swelling in the area.
      

 
Why cryotherapy?

  • The positive physiological changes that occur with ice and cold packs are: a decreased in pain to the area due to inhibition of the A delta and C nerve fibers via activation of the A beta fibers, an increase in muscle strength for 1-5 minutes due to facilitation of alpha motor neuron, a decrease in muscle tension and spasms due to decrease firing of the muscle spindle and increase firing of the GTO fibers, and a decrease in blood flow and metabolic process in order to reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • The negative physiological changes that occur with ice and cold packs are: a temporary increase in joint stiffness due to decrease in elasticity of the surround soft-tissues, and a decrease in blood flow and metabolic process which can promote healing to an area.
  • So when should you never use cryotherapy? Never use on an open wound, an area of no sensation, an area with impaired circulation, on the stomach of a pregnant woman, an individual with thin skin, or on an individual with cold intolerances or hypersensitivities (urticaria, Raynaud’s disease, etc.). There are more situations to never use cryotherapy, but those are the main things I can currently think of.
  • So when should you use cryotherapy and how do you use it? It would be recommended to use an ice and cold pack on recently sore and tight muscles or joints, reduce pain or inflammation from a recent or chronic injury, reduce swelling from a recent injury, reduce muscle guarding, and when needing to relax an area of the body. Never apply ice or cold packs directly to the skin. Always have a barrier between the skin and cold pack – like a wet towel, shirt, pillow case, etc. It is best to apply for 10-20 minutes at a time, but check the skin every 5 minutes. It is normal for the skin to turn red, but stop if you begin seeing or feeling signs of freezing or tissue sensitivity (welts or blisters) in the area.

 
To make it simple and easy to understand, I usually tell my patients that if it is a new injury or soreness, like a sprained ankle or post-workout soreness, then ice. If it is a chronic injury, like neck pain over the last year, then use heat.

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If you are looking to buy some medical-quality, excellent cold packs or heat packs then look into buying these products below by clicking on the photos. I’ve done the research for you and these are your best bang-for-buck without breaking the bank. I even use these in-clinic and for myself and my patients.

 
  

  
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