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Heat or Cold… Which Works Best?

24 MAR 2014

Since heat and cold can accomplish similar results in the end, how do you know which one to use?

Here’s a good rule to follow:

When an injury first occurs, use cold. This could be discomfort caused by trauma, such as over-exercising, lifting something heavy, or it could be from something as simple as sitting too long in a less-than-optimal position.

Or the injury may be an acute flare-up of a chronic condition.

Whatever the source of your acute injury, use cold first. Cold lowers the damaged tissue’s temperature and locally constricts blood vessels.  

Using cold therapy immediately after an injury helps prevent bruising and swelling from the waste and fluid build-up. Cold also helps numb nerve endings, providing you with instant, localized pain relief.

Ideally, use cold treatments for the first 48 to 72 hours. Apply for 20 minutes, then remove for 20 minutes. Start early and repeat as often as you can.

What kind of cold treatment should you use?

There’s ice, of course, if it’s available. However, you want to take great care in protecting your skin from the intense cold. Always use a cloth or towel wrap.

Gel packs are an excellent choice as they’re convenient and easy to use. Before you choose a gel pack, know what’s inside. Many are filled with toxic chemicals that can eventually leak.

Whichever option you use, to get the best benefits from cold treatment, be sure to use a wrap over the ice pack to improve the contact with your skin and to compress the injured area to minimize swelling. 

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