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Heat Therapy or Cold Therapy | What's Best For An Injury?

Both cold and heat therapy can help to relieve pain. Cryotherapy (cold therapy) and thermotherapy (heat therapy) serve as highly effective therapies for musculoskeletal and soft tissue injuries. The administration of heat or cold therapy is determined by the type and stage of the injury. The effects of heat and cold therapy on the body are not the same. These treatments alleviate pain in joints, muscles, and soft tissues while having opposite effects on tissue metabolism, blood flow, and connective tissue extensibility.

The majority of injuries cause inflammation and swelling in your body. Ice is used to ease swelling and cool the injured joint or tissue. Heat, on the other hand, would have the opposite and undesirable reaction. Heat therapy is more suitable for use during recovery as you work your way back to full health.


Heat therapy may be beneficial with chronic injuries or conditions. It promotes blood flow, reduces muscle stiffness, and alleviates pain. Heat therapy can help with conditions such as arthritis, stiffness, and sore muscles. Heat therapy is recommended to be used for 20-30 minutes at a time, several times per day. To avoid burning, avoid applying excessive heat to the skin, and avoid using heat therapy immediately after an injury. Heat is particularly beneficial for soft tissues and your back. It is beneficial to the muscles. Heat will loosen muscle fibres and aid in the recovery of range of motion. Heat will enhance blood flow and help your muscles warm up.

Heat therapy can inhibit nociception by influencing spinal segmental mechanisms via thermal receptors and mechanoreceptors. It enhances cutaneous barrier homeostasis and has anti-inflammatory properties. It also boosts blood circulation and muscle relaxation. By reducing edoema and dampening sympathetic nervous system activity, the hydrostatic effect may also relieve pain.

Heat therapy can be helpful for:

  • Back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, etc.
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Chronic joint pain
  • Chronic muscle pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Joint contracture, etc.


For acute injuries or sudden flare-ups of chronic injuries, cold therapy, such as an ice pack, is best. Cold therapy can help reduce inflammation, swelling, and numb pain. It is useful in the treatment of sprains, strains, and bruises. For the first 24-48 hours after the injury, apply cold therapy for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day. To avoid skin injury, do not apply ice directly to the skin and wrap the cold pack in a towel before applying. Even if you intend to see a doctor for a diagnosis, apply ice to help reduce swelling. Cooling the injured tissue will also help prevent further damage.

Skin blood flow is regulated by two sympathetic nervous system branches: a cholinergic active vasodilator system and a noradrenergic vasoconstrictor system. The key elements of thermoregulatory responses on the majority of the human body's surface are impacted by these dual sympathetic neural control mechanisms. Falling skin temperatures during hypothermia cause an increase in sympathetic active vasoconstrictor nerve activity, which reduces skin blood flow and conserves body heat. During heat stress, rising skin temperatures stimulate sympathetic active vasodilator nerve activity, which increases skin blood flow.

Conditions that can benefit from cold therapy:

  • BTendonitis (jumper's knee, tennis elbow).
  • Recurrent ligament/joint inflammation (arthritis flare-ups).
  • Shin splints
  • Plantar fasciitis.
  • Overuse injuries.
  • Strained or pulled muscles.
  • Sprains (shoulder, wrist, ankle).
  • Impact injuries to soft tissues like bruised hips, jammed fingers, facial traumas, etc.

Heat therapy should not be used for acute injuries since it can increase inflammation and swelling. Cold therapy, on the other hand, should not be used for chronic injuries because it can cause muscle stiffness and reduce blood flow.

Knowing when to use cold therapy and when to use heat therapy will significantly enhance the treatment's effectiveness. Some situations will necessitate the use of both. For example, arthritis patients may use heat to relieve joint stiffness and cold to relieve swelling and acute pain.

If either treatment exacerbates the pain or discomfort, discontinue it immediately. If the treatment hasn't helped much after a few days of regular use, you can make an appointment with your doctor to discuss other treatment options.

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