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Using temperature to provide pain relief is a common and well-established practice. We use heat to boost blood flow and the circulation of nutrients to specific areas of the body. On the other hand, we use cold to hamper blood flow, which can reduce swelling and pain. But how do you know whether you should use heat or cold for a condition? We discuss how exactly to utilize hot cold therapy here.
Situations Where You Can Use Either Heat or Cold
If you have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, neck pain, back pain or fibromyalgia, you can use either hot or cold therapy to help you manage pain caused by your condition. Both hot and cold therapy will relieve you from the following symptoms:
- Neck stiffness
- Pain in the lower and upper back
- Muscle aches, pains and spasms
- Knee pain
- Finger, wrist or hand pain
- Stiff, swollen and tender joints
You can use the following sources to apply hot cold therapy at home:
- Heating pads
- Gel packs that can either be frozen or microwaved
- A washcloth that has been soaked in either hot or cold water
Before applying your hot or cold compress to your body, ensure that it is wrapped in a thin towel to protect your skin from damage. You can apply the compress to your body several times a day, for about 15 to 20 minutes each time.
While pinkish skin after application of your source is normal, there may be certain situations where damage to the skin or tissue has occurred if you leave the compress on your body for longer than is advised. If you notice any one of the symptoms below after you have removed your compress, be sure to call your doctor or seek medical intervention:
- A dark red, spotty red and white, or purplish-red tinge to your skin
Hydrotherapy is another form of therapy that relies on temperature adjustment. If you are in pain, standing beneath a hot shower or taking a warm bath can help you relax. Taking a warm shower or bath before you exercise can help you loosen your muscles and joints. On the other hand, a cold shower can reduce inflammation and help soothe deep and acute pain.
You can also use a contrast bath or switch up the temperatures of your shower to reduce pain and swelling while increasing blood flow and promoting overall healing.
Warm Clothes and Heat Wraps
An easier way of introducing heat therapy to the start of your day is by simply wearing warm clothes. Put your clothes in the dryer for a couple of minutes before you put them on. This is a simple method but it can help relieve morning stiffness and pain.
Alternatively, you can use a low-level heat wrap. These wraps can be worn for up to 8 hours, including while you are asleep. Be sure to read the directions on the packaging carefully before you use them. Studies have shown that long-term, low-level heat applied directly to your skin can reduce tension and stiffness significantly, while promoting flexibility, for up to 48 hours or longer.