For pain and injuries that involve our joints and muscles, heat and cold are often the most common and most effective ways to treat them. Applying a hot or a cold compress is simple, does not involve any drugs, and is the cheapest first aid method for joint injury and muscle strain. But because it’s so commonly used, you might not be so sure when to use a hot compress and when to use an ice pack.
Once you understand how heat and cold exactly work on our bodies, it might be easier for you to decide when to use each of these remedies.
Similarities and differences
The one thing that heat and cold therapy have in common is the fact that it is applied externally – meaning it only takes placing a concentrated source of heat or cold on the injured part for it to work. The main difference is in the temperature’s effects on the injury. Heat opens up our blood vessels, which encourages the flow of blood and oxygen to the area where it is applied. Cold temperature works the opposite way; it causes circulation to slow down, which means there will be less blood flow to the area.
Since heat promotes blood flow, it promotes quick healing and lessens the pain of strained muscles. On the other hand, applying a cold therapy ice bag helps reduce swelling because of the reduced blood flow.
What’s best for first aid
Clearly, it is best to apply cold temperature onto an injury first. Our body’s first reaction to an injury like a sprain is to promote blood flow to the area, which is why it tends to swell or get bruised. To reduce this, a cold bag needs to be applied onto the area for at most twenty minutes. A cold pack should also be applied on the area for one to two days after the injury. That way, it will be easier for the injury to heal, and the pain will be more bearable.
Afterwards, heat can be applied to promote the healing of the injury, and it can even be used for further therapy long after the injury is healed if there is still chronic pain in the area.
Be it a hot compress or cold therapy, it’s important to have an accessible way for you to prepare in case you’ll need to use these for first aid. It is easier and more advisable to have reusable packs, especially for cold bags so that you won’t have to wait for ice to freeze to prepare an ice pack. Also, these ice packs are made from sturdy and reusable material, so they’ll last a long time and can be used several times.