Cold and hot are exactly the opposites of each other and there fore need to be used differently when you are treating pain or an injury. Techniques such as Trans cutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) or the use of painkillers medication is used along with hot and cold therapy depending on the severity of your injury. Ice packs and heat pads are the most common tools for medical person on the sports field or a therapeutic clinic. Let’s take a look at the different categories of injuries you can get.
- Acute Injuries: These injuries occur suddenly, traumatic and usually cause severe pain. They are caused by collisions or falls. A muscle tear is a good example of acute injuries.
- Chronic Injuries: These injuries are slow to develop and more likely will cause a dull throbbing pain. Muscle strain is an example of this when you push your muscles to do more than they are use to. Most first-time gym-goers get this.
Ice causes your blood vessels to narrow down and is great for battling against pain and preventing swelling. To conduct cold therapy, wrap ice in a towel or a thin cloth and press it against the injured area. Don’t continuously press it for more than ten minutes; this will prevent your blood vessels from getting too narrow or worse, frostbite.
If you don’t have access to ice, a frozen bag of peas or even frozen meat can do the same trick. Never take part in intense physical activity that will incorporate the function of your injured muscle directly after applying ice as this increases your chance of re injury or even a worse injury. A cold muscle will not stretch as easy as a warm muscle. This can cause a muscle to tear.
Heat therapy increases the blood flow in the muscles and gets it to relax. Heat therapy is best before your workout and never after it. You can apply heat therapy by simply placing a hot wet towel on the injured part. They are best suited to tackle chronic injuries. Constantly give your injured muscles a break from the heat at least every fifteen minutes. So keep changing the hot wet towel. This is to avoid any burns on your skin.
You can also use a heating pad, heat wrap or hot water bottle. When you are using a heating pad or heat wrap, it is best to wrap it in a towel to make sure you don’t burn your skin. If none of those are around, just go for a hot water bath.
If you are a sports person, cold therapy is best used only after your exercises, while the heat therapy is best used before it.
Finally, heat and cold therapy can only do so much for your muscles. If the chronic muscle injury does not improve in at least a week, visit your local physical therapist before it gets worse. If you are affected by acute muscle injury, wait no more than 2 days, before you visit your therapist, in case the injury does not improve. Waiting any longer can seriously damage your muscles.