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Best Uses for Cold Therapy

More often then not, I recommend using cold therapy over heat therapy. This suggestion is surprising to many of my clients...

who are often using heating pads and warm compresses to treat their injuries. heat can cause further inflammation, where cold therapy can reduce inflammation.


My rule of thumb is that if the affected area feels warm to the touch, it would benefit more from cold than heat.  Generally after the acute stage of a minor injury, you may experience stiffness, but not inflammation--this is when heat therapy can be beneficial to loosen it up. In some cases, at this stage, it may also work well to alternate cold and heat, as cold reduces inflammation and heat increases circulation.  Whatever it takes to get you back out there.


When treating an acute injury, remember the acronym RICE: (R) Rest after the injury; (I) Ice the injured area; (C) Compression or pressure should be applied; (E) Elevate the injury


Here are the types of injuries that benefit from cold therapy: 


  1. Contusion: Bruising without a tear in the skin is called a contusion. These injuries typically occur because of a hard impact to the muscle, which damages the muscle fibers and causes tears in the small blood vessels. Immediately after the impact, you should ice the area for no longer than 15-20 minutes. Afterward, cover the area with a foam pad and secure it with an elastic bandage. Continue cold therapy each day until the discoloration and swelling disappear. 

  2. Muscle Pull (Strain): If you’ve ever strained your back while lifting a heavy object or pulled a muscle while exercising, you know that the pain can be brutal. Strains like these cause the muscle fibers to stretch and tear, which causes internal bleeding and swelling. While many people try to treat these injuries with heat, doing so can cause further inflammation. Instead, apply ice and, if possible, elevate the limb. Be cautious as you return to regular activity to avoid re-injuring the area. 

  3. Sprain: When you move a joint beyond its normal range of motion, you can end up tearing some of the  blood vessels and fibers of the supporting ligament, causing internal bleeding and swelling. For sprains, it’s important to stay off of the affected limb (using crutches for lower body injuries), and avoid using the injured completely before returning to any kind of rigorous activity. 

  4. Fracture: If you suspect that you may have cracked or broken a bone, apply a splint immediately and use an ice pack while you’re on the way to urgent care or the hospital. Cold therapy alone will not heal a fracture, but will help to decrease inflammation, stop internal bleeding, and reduce pain. 


The best way to use cold therapy: The type of cold therapy you choose to use is a matter of preference; however, ice should not be applied directly to the skin for long periods. Instead, use an ice bag or wrap ice in a towel. If your preference is to apply ice directly to the skin, freeze ice in a foam cup and peel back the foam as you massage the injured area with the ice. Continuously move the ice to avoid frostbite. 


Cold therapy should only be used for 15-20 minutes. During this period of time, you’ll feel cold, then burning, then aching, and finally numbness. When the skin feels numb, it’s time to end your cold therapy session. You can repeat this process daily until the injured area has healed

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How To Use Heat Therapy




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