While modern solutions like anti-inflammatories are extremely helpful in treating sports injuries, sometimes conservative methods can be just as effective. Hot and cold therapy has been used along with massages and physical therapy for decades to help alleviate inflammation. Knowing when to apply ice and when to apply heat can help you manage pain and stiffness, so you can let your body heal with as little intervention as possible.
Dr. Philip Regala practices orthopedic medicine in Naples, Florida. One of his areas of expertise is sports medicine, helping athletes perform to their full potential, and facilitating rapid healing when they suffer an injury. Conservative treatments like hot and cold therapy are often the first line of defense when you suffer a sporting mishap. Dr. Regala wants to ensure you’re using both safely and correctly.
How to use ice
We’ve all heard of the RICE method for treating acute injuries: rest, ice, compress, and elevate. Icing an injury is a common form of hot/cold therapy, and for good reason: cold temperatures reduce blood flow, which helps reduce your body’s inflammatory response. Combined with compression and elevation, cold therapy keeps the area from becoming painful and swollen.
You should never ice an area for very long. Prolonged exposure to cold, especially direct contact, can lead to skin and nerve damage. Always wrap your ice pack in a towel, and never apply cold for longer than 15-20 minutes.
How to use heat
If you’ve ever felt stiff after a long day, you might have noticed that a hot shower did the trick. This is a common form of hot therapy. Heat encourages blood flow, which can reduce spasms, muscle aches, and stiffness. Generally, you should use heat therapy to relax and soothe your muscles, which encourages healing.
There are many ways to perform hot therapy, including:
- Dry heating pads
- Hot water bottles
- Steamed towels
- Hot baths
Unlike ice, heat needs time to work. 20-30 minutes is usually enough to treat localized pain, while a long soak in the bath can treat more severe pain.
When to seek further treatment
While hot/cold therapy can work wonders as an at-home remedy, it’s not a replacement for pain relievers and modern medicine. In fact, hot/cold therapy is best used in tandem with other treatments, such as anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers.
If your pain persists despite the use of OTC medication and therapy, it might be time to consult a specialist. Whether your pain is chronic or caused by an acute injury, Dr. Regala can help you begin healing.
To schedule a consultation and learn more about your treatment options, call 239-325-1131, or book an appointment online.