Which Is Better - Ice, Heat, Or Contrast Bathing?
Posted on 6th October 2021 at 11:41
Heat or cold therapies are widely used due to their low cost, pain relieving action, and for supporting the rehabilitation of acute and chronic injuries.
If you’re an active person, the likelihood of you experiencing or having experienced an injury is higher than if you’re a sedentary person, because you’re pushing your body to the limits. You’ve probably heard that when you get injured you should put ice/heat straight on it.
But when do you use heat and ice? Do you use heat or ice first? Can you use both?
Cryotherapy is the use of cold and is normally in the form of ice and ice packs. Cold therapy should be used during the acute phase of injury (the beginning) and this should be applied every 2-3 hours for 10-15 minutes, for the first 24-48 hours following the injury.
Cold treatment reduces blood flow to an injured area, which in turn, slows the rate of inflammation and reduces the risk of swelling and tissue damage. It acts as a local anaesthetic by numbing the injured area. It does this by slowing down the pain signals being transmitted by the brain.
Cryotherapy should not be used if:
• There’s a risk of cramping
• The person is already cold/the area is already numb
• There is an open wound/blistered skin
• The person has a vascular disease/injury or has a nerve disorder that affects blood flow
• The person is hypersensitive to cold
Cryotherapy is primarily a pain-reliever. It will not repair tissue.
Thermotherapy is the use of heat and is normally in the form of hot water bottles/ wheat bags or hot compresses. Heat should be used during the healing phases of an injury. Dry heat packs can be applied for up to 8 hours, whereas moist can be applied for 2 hours.
Applying heat to an inflamed area will dilate the blood vessels, promote blood flow, and help sore and tight muscles relax. Improved circulation can help decrease the build-up of lactic acid. Heat also has an analgesic effect.
Heat should not be used if:
• The skin is hot, red, and inflamed
• The person has dermatitis or an open wound
• The area is numb
• The person is insensitive to heat
Contrast Bathing (Hot and Cold)
Contrast bathing is the use of both cold and hot therapies. It involves either submerging part/all of your body in cold and then immediately after warm water. Or it could involve simply placing a cold compress on part of your body and then swapping to a hot one.
The body reacts to the cold temperature by vasoconstricting the blood vessels, therefore, slowing down the blood flow. When you expose the body to heat, the opposite happens. The blood vessels will open up, and this is called vasodilation.
You should alternate between the two, spending around 10-15 minutes on one before changing to the other for around 3 cycles. This can be done as many times as possible during the week.
With this sort of therapy it’s important to talk to your doctor beforehand if you have any of the following conditions:
• Open wounds
• Heart problems
• High blood pressure
• Deep vein thrombosis
Both cold and hot therapies have their benefits and when used correctly are very efficient.
If you’re suffering from pain from an injury speak to a therapist at Fire&Earth for advice on the best treatment for you. We’d be happy to help.
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