A lot of pain in your muscles and joints can be treated using hot and cold therapies. It's a popular treatment option because it's relatively simple, non-invasive, and non-addictive.
It's important to know the difference between the two so you know which is more appropriate to use for each situation. Luckily many products nowadays have a dual purpose and can be used for both heat and cold therapy.
In general, cold therapy is used first, for the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury. Cold therapy is particularly good for treating sprains, strains, bumps, and bruises that may occur in sports or lifting. This is because of its role in slowing blood circulation to an area, reducing both pain, muscle spasm, and inflammation.
Cold is applied by an ice or gel pack to injured areas for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Every 10 minutes, the ice pack should be removed for 10 minutes before reapplying again.
Heat therapy, on the other hand, increases blood flow to the injured area. It should be applied if you have stiff joints or chronic muscle and joint pain. Increased blood flow supplies crucial oxygen and nutrients to reduce pain in joints and relax sore muscles, ligaments and tendons. Warmth also decreases muscle spasms and can increase range of motion.
Heat can be applied through both dry or moist methods, although the latter may penetrate better. Options include heating pad, hot water bottle, gel packs, or hot water baths all at a warm (not hot) and consistent temperature. Don't apply heat for longer than 20 minutes or use it on open wounds and stitches. Think about incorporating warming elements into your daily routine, such as warming your clothes in the dryer before dressing, or using an electric blanket and turning it up for a few minutes before getting out of bed.