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Hot or Cold Therapy, Which One Do I Use?

By Stephen R. Farris

If you're a recreational athlete, or on the job in a very active work environment (constantly bending, twisting, turning, lifting, walking, etc.), then chances are you've probably had some type of injury from a strain to a sprain, requiring either hot or cold treatment.

However, there seems to be a dilemma when it comes to hot or cold treatment for injuries. Which one do we use and for how long?

Typically, the first thing you should do is ask your local physician or chiropractor. Secondly, maybe you have from a previous injury but forgot the correct methods (hot or cold treatment.)

There may be situations when both are required to help treat an injury. So let's take a look at all three; hot, cold, or both.

Heat Therapy

Basically, heat therapy helps get the blood circulating, which can soothe and/or loosen up tight muscles. Heat therapy can also help heal tissues that may have been damaged from the injury. There are a couple of ways to receive heat therapy and that's from a dry heat such as a heating pad, sauna, or heat pack. The other is from topical creams, hot baths, or hot, wet towels. This method is called moist heat therapy. 

How Long for Heat Therapy?

While the intent is to provide relief from the injury, you certainly don't want to scald the area from high heat. For minor injuries, you should provide heat therapy for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. For more severe type injuries, heat therapy can be applied from 30 minutes on up to two hours.

Cold Therapy

Cold therapy is used for treating injuries where inflammation has set in. Basically you're doing a reversal of heat therapy by reducing the blood flow to the injured area. Cold therapy can be done by using something as simple as a bag filled with ice, ice baths, or ice packs. Recently, while watching how Australian Football League players train, one of the therapies used was a cold chamber for the entire body. They only stayed in it for about 2-5 minutes as the temperature inside is in minus degrees of Celsius (minus 1 degree is 30 degrees Fahrenheit). AFL players do a lot of running, jumping and occasional physical contact during their matches, so their injuries can be numerous.  

How Long for Cold Therapy?

Rule of thumb for cold therapy (ice bags, packs) is no longer than 10 to 20 minutes a few times per day. Usually you'll want to wrap the bags or packs in a towel to prevent damaging your skin.

Reiterating from earlier, you should check with your local physician or chiropractor before starting any heat or cold therapy for injuries.

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Charlotte, N.C.

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