Hot or cold? Warm or chilly? What temperature treatments are best to resolve aches and pains? Temperature can in fact be an excellent way to warm up or cool down muscles, soothe or invigorate different areas of stiffness or lingering pain. But, which is best – and when?
All good questions, and important ones to ask as you continue on your quest to keep all your muscles and joints happy and healthy. My training as a Physical Therapy Assistant allowed me to learn and apply some very important practical knowledge about hot and cold treatments for injuries and pain points.
First off, always practice caution with any sort of temperature remedy. Using a remedy that is either way too hot or way too cold can leave you with a burn, only making life more uncomfortable. Not a fun time!
Also, if you have any sort of sensation impairments, be extra, extra cautious with temperature modalities. For example, someone who is diabetic may experience impaired sensation in their limbs and would not feel the degree to which ice may be too cold or a source of heat may be too hot. And, always keep a layer (or two) between your skin and the source of heat or cold! This protects your skin, while still allowing the temperature remedy to help out your muscles.
Secondly, there are a lot of opinions about using hot and cold remedies, but I have always found this methodology below to be helpful, especially in terms of recovering from an injury, healing, soothing inflammation, or battling stiffness.
For tightness and stiffness, think heat. Easy to remember because you can think about the warmth penetrating your muscles and warming them up for an activity. This is what you want – your muscles to be “unfrozen” for comfortable movement and activity. For pain and inflammation, opt for cold – using ice or a cold compress to help decrease any swelling and minimize any pain you might be feeling.
- If you’re working to loosen up a chronically stiff area, you can utilize heat before your mobility and movement work for about 10-15 minutes.
- After you are done with your stretching, strengthening, and mobility work in that area, you can then use ice or a cold compress for about 15-20 minutes. This will aid in decreasing any possible inflammation or soreness after your exercise and movement.
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