When to Use Cold or Hot Treatment for an Injury - Chicago Chiropractic & Wellness
When to Use Cold or Hot Treatment for an Injury

When to Use Cold or Hot Treatment for an Injury

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We know that when you’re in pain – whether from a fresh injury or a long-term issue – you want relief, and you want it quickly. Both cold therapy and hot therapy are useful, but they play different roles in treatment. Read on to find out when and how to use each type of therapy.

Cold Therapy

When to Use It
Cold therapy is good for new injuries. “New” can refer to anything that’s six weeks old or less, but it’s especially effective in the first 48 hours after an injury.

Cold packs should be used for acute injuries like pulled muscles, bursitis, sprains and tendinitis. They can also help relieve a headache, particularly the throbbing type.

How It Works


Cold packs constrict blood vessels, reducing blood flow and chemical reactions in the area. Thus, the swelling and inflammation that happen after an injury are able to go down.

Applying a cold pack will also numb the area. When you’re in pain, numbness provides much-appreciated relief.

How to Use It


For health and wellness after an injury, we recommend applying cold packs to the affected area on and off throughout the day. Leave the ice on for about 20 minutes at a time. Then, reapply within the next couple of hours.

Never allow ice to sit on your skin directly. Instead, wrap an ice pack in a light towel before applying it to your injury. Also, don’t spend the whole 20 minutes of cold therapy with the pack in one place. Move it occasionally to protect the skin.

Hot Therapy

When to Use It
Chronic injuries, including general arthritis discomfort and chronic back pain, benefit from hot therapy. Heat can also be used to treat pain that lingers after sprains and other injuries; just don’t use it until the inflammation stage is over. Finally, put heat on for a headache that is triggered by muscle spasms.

How It Works


Heat relaxes joints and muscles. This provides relief for both stiffness and spasms.

Treating pain also helps bring blood flow to the affected area. In fact, this is why you should not use hot therapy on fresh injuries as it can cause extra inflammation, which is detrimental to recovery.

How to Use It


As with cold, protect your skin by using a towel between yourself and the heating pad. You can also dampen a towel with warm water and use that in place of a heating pad.

Leave the heat on the injury for about 20 minutes. Don’t reapply it until the spot has had a chance to completely cool.

For more help relieving your acute or chronic pain, contact us. In the meantime, use cold and heat therapy to find some relief for your symptoms. Remember that cold is best for new injuries, and heat works for chronic ones.