Cold and heat therapy are both popular methods of treating chronic pain. Some like it cold, and some like it hot; you may find that you, personally, respond better to one over the other. However, both cold and heat therapy have fantastic advantages. These treatments can be done at home, and the necessary products are usually quite affordable. You can even make your own compress in a pinch, with common household products!
Benefits of Cold Therapy
Cold compression therapy can be used to treat a variety of ailments, from sports injuries to back pain to arthritis. It is also an easy and affordable method of treatment, because most people have access to a freezer and products like frozen peas. Applying a cold compress from a reputable brand or a homemade compress to your area of pain will lower your skin’s temperature, decrease nerve activity, and reduce swelling. This type of therapy is most useful around a joint or tendon.
Cautions to Keep in Mind
A compress that is too cold can harm your skin, so wrap your compress in a towel and don’t apply it directly. It is recommended that you apply the cold compress in periods of 10 to 20 minutes, and that you frequently check the responsiveness of your skin to make sure your skin can still feel sensation.
When you don’t have a real ice pack, still try to avoid using products like raw meat to create an icepack, and instead, use packages of frozen vegetables. You can also give your affected area an ice bath or make your own ice pack by mixing one cup of rubbing alcohol with two cups of water, and then freezing the mixture in a zipped plastic bag. However, it’s best to use a professionally designed ice pack. While you can use certain household products, many professional ice pack products are specifically designed to fit a particular area of your body comfortably.
Benefits of Heat Therapy
- Taking a warm bath in the morning to relieve morning stiffness.
- Creating a homemade heat pack by microwaving a wet washcloth in a freezer bag. The heat pack should be wrapped in a towel before being applied to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Applying mineral oil to sore hand joints, wearing rubber dishwashing gloves, and soaking the hands in hot tap water for 5 to 10 minutes.
Heat therapy has also been recommended for back pain, as well as muscle tightness, because heat increases the body’s blood flow, which relaxes muscle fibers.
Chronic pain patients can benefit from heat therapy, too, through paraffin wax products. Ask your physiotherapist how to use one.
If paraffin wax doesn’t suit your preferences, there are also numerous other heat therapy products on the market that are easy to use, such as a microwavable heat pack.
Cautions to Keep in Mind
Make sure your heat compress doesn’t get too hot, and don’t apply an extremely hot heat pack to your skin. Wrap your heat pack in a towel and test it out with a smaller body part, such as a finger, before applying it.
Avoid falling asleep during a heat therapy session. You may be tempted to relax, which is great, but if you’re afraid you’ll fall asleep, set an alarm.
Drawbacks of Both Cold and Heat Therapy
Cold and heat therapy are easy and accessible modes of therapy, when used in the right circumstances. Here’s when and why using these therapies may not be the best treatment plan:
- If your pain is severe, cold and heat therapy may not be enough to ease your symptoms.
- Constantly carrying around a heat or ice pack can be unfeasible and impractical.
- Compressions that are too cold or too hot can damage your skin if you’re not careful.
- Cold and heat can dissipate, so regular re-heating and re-freezing your product may be necessary.
- You can only use cold and heat therapy for a limited time without damaging your skin.
Of course, in most situations, using heating and cooling therapy is extremely beneficial and calming. The aforementioned drawbacks are the exception; not the rule.
Your doctor may prescribe you a medication like CELEBREX® (celecoxib) which may be too expensive for some patients. If heat and cold therapy is not enough to relieve your pain, and pills are too expensive, you can buy more affordable drugs for your condition at an online Canadian pharmacy referral service like Canada Med Pharmacy.
At the end of the day, choosing heat or cold therapy, or something else, is up to you. Try both, see which is one is more comfortable and effective, and make your decision.