The application of heat and cold packs are the standard first line of response for most who experience joint pain of any kind, particularly when there is swelling involved. The question for many arises, which is the best treatment? When should you use heat and when should you use cold for joint pain relief? The answer is that it depends upon the cause of the pain.
Best Treatment For Injuries
When your joint pain is caused by an injury, there are a few things you need to know about what happens to your tissues. Recent injuries cause strain, stress and damage to the tissues of the affected area. This often results in swelling and tenderness in the area. Most often, small blood vessels leak blood into the surrounding tissues and the best treatment for this type of pain is the application of cold packs. Cold helps to slow or stop the bleeding of ruptured blood vessels by constricting them. This helps to lessen the associated swelling and the pain. When you have injured a body part, the rule of thumb is Rest, Ice, Compression (light wrap), and elevation, raising the injured part up to reduce joint pain swelling.
Why is Heat Not Recommended For Injuries?
When heat is applied to damaged tissues with swelling, the affected blood vessels react to the warmth by dilating or widening. This means that they with leak more blood into the area and increase the swelling and discomfort. This can also cause added inflammation and may cause a slower recovery process for the tissues.
When Heat May Be Applied To An Injury
After the tissues begin to heal and there is no more leakage of the capillaries, heat can actually be helpful. During the healing process, heat helps to relax the muscles, ease pain and discomfort and aid in the body’s absorption of the old blood that had leaked into the tissues.
Should Heat or Cold Be Used For Arthritis?
In short, the answer is both, just not both at the same time.
When joints become inflamed due to arthritis, health care providers most often recommend the application of heat earlier in the day. This helps to reduce the stiffness and soreness that is commonly associated with most forms of arthritis. Later in the day, ice packs are recommended to help reduce inflammation and pain. The reason that ice is not recommended earlier in the day is that the cold may actually increase stiffness in the joints and muscles, making it more difficult to move around.
How Much is too Much?
As with anything, the use of heat or cold to the body should be used with common sense. Ice packs should be placed within a thin cloth or other comfortable light covering to help protect the skin from becoming too cold. Ice packs should only be used for periods of 20 minutes at a time as too much of a good thing can actually cause damage.
When using heat packs it is important to make sure that the temperature is not hot enough to cause burns to the skin, but it must be warm enough to have the positive effect that you require for relief. Do not leave the heat pack on the affected area for more than 20 minutes.
Timing is everything when it comes to using heat and cold to treat pain
The use of ice packs and heat are both recommended for pain caused by injuries and by arthritis. Knowing when to use heat and when to use cold is the key in getting this right. There are specific times ice. In arthritis it is usually later in the day. With injuries ice is the best treatment to use in the first few days. Heat is recommended for use to ease arthritis pain early in the day, switching to ice as the day wears on. Hip injuries can be made worse if heat is used too early in the healing process. However; heat actually helps to speed the healing process after the first few days, and can bring tremendous relief from the pain associated with an injury.
Both heat and cold are useful in treating the pain caused by arthritis and injuries. Each have their place, but knowing when they are the most useful is the key. Ice comes first for injuries, but last for arthritis. Heat comes first for arthritis but last for injuries. If you remember this rule, you’ll have the best success in using temperature to treat joint pain, regardless of its cause.