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Hot and Cold Therapy - What do you use when?

What should you apply when you are injured - ice packs or a heating pad? Which one will provide relief from aches and pain? Today, we talk about these age-old trusted methods of heat and cold therapy — supplemented with many modern tools. 

Hot or Cold Therapy - What do you use when?

Exercise is the best way to stay fit and healthy. However, exercise related injuries are not uncommon. Whether you are a fitness enthusiast, a regular at the gym, or an athlete, you may find yourself at the receiving end of an injury. It's not a great feeling when you have to break that fitness rhythm, but with some hot and cold therapy remedies you will be up and running quickly, quite literally.

If you are an RMT, hot and cold therapy may come in handy for you to treat your clients with muscle soreness and stiffness too. Both of these therapies are used widely and/or simultaneously.

When to use Cold Therapy?

Cold therapy (also known as cryotherapy) reduces swelling and inflammation. The treatment uses cold packs and ice baths to lower the temperature and treat a variety of tissue lesions. Ice is a vaso-constrictor that slows the blood flow to the injury site. Cold therapy with ice is the best immediate treatment for acute injuries because it reduces swelling and pain. It is most effective during the first 48 hours on the injured site.

How to Ice an Injury:

  • Wrap ice in a thin towel and place it on the affected area for a maximum of 20 minutes. 
  • Do not apply for more than 20 minutes as there is a risk of tissue damage.
  • Allow the skin temperature to return to normal before icing a second or third time.
  • You can ice an acute injury several times a day for up to three days.

Cryotherapy is also an effective treatment for chronic pain. 

It is most commonly used by athletes to treat runner's knee, tendonitis, sprains, and arthritis pain. For instance, an athlete who has knee pain may experience more pain after running. A cold therapy to the injured area after each run can possibly reduce or prevent inflammation.

Heat Therapy - When to apply and when not?

Unlike cold therapy, heat therapy is used to treat chronic injuries or injuries that have no inflammation or swelling. Also known as thermotherapy, heat therapy uses heat from a variety of products including the hot water bottle, heating pad, paraffin baths, ultrasound, whirlpool baths, hydrocollator packs, cordless FIR heat therapy wraps, and others to create higher tissue temperatures. These products increase blood flow, making connective tissue more flexible and reducing the pain.

If you are suffering from muscle soreness or stiffness and a nagging muscle or joint pain, heat therapy is a great treatment option.

Apply heat therapy to increase the elasticity of joint connective tissues and stimulate blood circulation. It can also treat tight muscles or muscle spasms.

However, heat therapy should not be applied after exercise. Avoid applying heat to acute injuries or areas of inflammation as heat increases circulation and raises skin temperature.

How to Heat Treat an Injury?

  • Safely apply heat to an injury 15 to 20 minutes at a time 
  • Use enough layers between your skin and the heating source to prevent burns
  • In case of serious injuries, seek medical attention if the  injury does not improve (or gets worse) within 48 hours

Rest, Medication, and Exercise Therapy

Whether you use heat or cold therapy, always remember to rest. Resting an injury always allows it to recover more quickly. Remember to listen to your body. If the pain is unbearable, take over-the-counter pain medicines to ease discomfort. 

Your doctor may also advise you to recommend some rehabilitation exercises as part of the healing process.  

Body Best Recommends - HOT and COLD Therapy Products

  • Rapid Relief® Cold/Hot Gel provides comfort. This reusable hot or cold compress is microwave safe, non-toxic and has no added dyes. This pack will never lose its flexibility, so time after time you can get rapid relief.

  • Battle Creek’s Thermophore Moist Heating Pads are designed to deliver the kind of intense heat that can penetrate deeply to bring you relief from pain, muscle cramps, and stiffness for hours. These heating pads stimulate circulation to increase the supply of rich, oxygenated nutrients that are available to damaged tissues. It is a professional quality product designed to provide moist heat without adding water. It is a tool used by many physical medicine healthcare professionals.

  • Biofreeze is Canada’s No. 1 clinically recommended brand of therapy gels and sprays. It is a unique, effective analgesic formulated to provide a variety of benefits for therapy, pain relief, exercise/training and overall comfort.

  • CryoDerm Cold Therapy Roll contains all natural ingredients including menthol, eucalyptus, peppermint oil, msm and herbal extracts of arnica, boswella, and ilex. It is 100% colourless, dye-free, paraben-free, and gluten-free. It provides fast acting, deeply penetrating pain relieving warmth for muscle sprains and strains, sore stiff muscles, bursitis and tendonitis, arthritis and joint pain. The secret of this pain reliever is its deep-penetrating, long-lasting, gentle warmth.

  • Biotone Polor Lotion –  This menthol-based lotion is very fast-acting and deep-penetrating. It immediately soothes aches, inflamed or sore areas to bring overall comfort. It's ideal for sports training, physical therapy or combined with a stretching program. Its scent does not linger.

Common Injuries and Resistance Equipment

Some ailments such as lateral and medial epicondylitis (tennis and golfer’s elbow, respectively) are frequently seen in athletes.

Patients suffering from golfers and tennis elbow can use Theraband's Flex bar that helps decrease pain through bending, twisting or oscillating. The repeated motion rather than resistance strength is the key factor for recovery. We recommend the yellow or red flex bar.

Theraband resistance system is a patented progressive system. They offer a full selection of products from inflatable balls to bands and exercising tubing. These devices are supported through a well-documented set of respective exercises to help rehabilitate injuries and help patients achieve a higher level of fitness. The Theraband Academy at is an excellent resource.

Under the direction of a therapist, the exercises should be repeated starting at the lowest, safest resistance that has been prescribed. After being able to accomplish three sets of 10-15 repetitions,  the patient moves to the next resistance level.

Products recommended for Clinic Set-up

For professional set-ups, check out these products:

  • Chattanooga Hydrocollator M4 Mobile Heating Unit is a great addition to any medium to large size clinic by providing a constant supply of temperature-consistent HotPacs™. With no required plumbing, this unit has a footprint of 20 x 32 inches and can fit almost anywhere. It also includes four 8cm (3″) swivel-type rubber casters for silent, friction-free movement offering easy portability or storage solutions. 
  • Versa-Bath Hydrocollator is the first multi-purpose water bath. Used for conditioning Thermal Core Moist Heat Packs, or as a water bath for moulding thermoplastic splinting and casting materials. Seamless design and double wall insulation make Versa-Bath efficient and easy to clean.
  • Professional Hot Stone Heater is designed especially to heat massage stones.  As a professional hot stone warmer it is perfect for use while giving full body spa treatments. 

Check out our Pain Management section to discover a selection of quality pain relief tools and topical analgesics for muscle and back pain in Canada. 

Summer is a wonderful time of the year to enjoy the outdoors. After a long winter, Canadians are anxious to enjoy the warm weather. However, in our pursuit to enjoy the outdoors, there is a potential for injury.

Many people suffer from seasonal injuries with prolonged periods of pain. It is always best to seek the advice of a medical professional to address acute and chronic pain.

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