Cold versus Heat for Injury Treatments

Heat Therapy

Heat treatment (or thermotherapy) is best for chronic conditions and long-standing problems.Increasing the tissue temperature causes local dilation of blood vessels bringing nutrients and oxygen via the blood to aid in recovery, reduction in muscle tension and spasm by decreasing pain signals from the nerves, and decreased pain perception by distracting pain receptors with overriding heat signals. Heat should not be used on an acute or recent injury until the swelling is controlled! This will increase the swelling of the region. Also, do not heat before vigorous exercise as the muscles may be too relaxed for ideal performance and injury prevention.

Make your own moist hot pack:  Fill a cotton tube or knee sock 3/4 of the length with plain white rice (avoid instant rice), beans, buckwheat, oatmeal or flax seeds and sew or tightly tie the end shut. Place in the microwave for up to 1-2 minutes or place in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 250 F. Be careful as it will be hot. Wrap this in a towel to protect your skin from burns. This will stay warm for half an hour or so and can be reheated as needed.


Ice Therapy

Cold therapy is best for  treating acute injuries including sprains, strains, and bruises; overuse conditions (Eg. tendonosis), reduction of post-exercise soreness, and can increase circulation in areas of chronic discomfort. Application results in local constriction of blood vessels resulting in a reduction of swelling and pain by local metabolites and also the reduction of pain by numbing the region. Do not use cold therapy in areas of poor circulation or decreased sensation.

Make your own Cold Pack: Combine one cup of rubbing alcohol with two cups of water in a zip-lock freezer bag. Squeeze out excess air and seal the bag. We suggest to double-seal the pack with a second zip-lock bag. This mixture freezes at a lower temperature so it stays slushy for good ice pack consistency. For a less dense gel decrease the amount of water or increase the amount of water for a thicker gel. Lasts for 15 minutes or longer, and can be used over and over.


Use of Heat and Ice: 10:10:10 protocol (10 minute application, 10 minutes off, 10 minute application each hour).  In both cases it takes a minimum of 15 minutes to penetrate tissues to reach therapeutic temperatures. Treatment time will vary depending on the size of the treatment area, the type of hot or cold therapy applied and depth of the tissue you need to penetrate. For chronic problems alternating heat with cold therapy can cause a greater circulatory effect.

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Prevent. Perform. Recover.

Equinox Health Clinic