From workout injuries, to a chronic illness, to everyday aches, we’ve all experienced our fair share of pain. In fact, 85 percent of Americans are hurting according to one study. And for the many ways we’re hurting, there are just as many treatments.
Remedies such as analgesics, physical therapy and acupuncture, all have their advantages, but did you know temperature therapy can be a great complement to many of these pain management treatments? And while the use of heat and cold to relieve pain has been going on for thousands of years, many of us are unclear on how to implement them effectively. These basic rules may help:
In Hot Pursuit: The Benefits Heat Therapy
Warm temperature helps to relax muscles, and relieve taut joints, ligaments, and tendons. It does this by opening up blood vessels, which increases blood flow and supplies oxygen and nutrients to the affected area.
Increasing blood flow also helps with the elimination of toxins, which can cause pain. For example, a chemical called lactic acid can accumulate in muscles when they are put under stress and deprived of oxygen. This build-up causes painful muscle aches. Restored blood flow speeds up the removal of lactic acid, relieving aches.
Other rewards of heat therapy include decreased muscle spasms, increased range of motion, and alleviated pain.
When to Use Heat Therapy
Heat therapy is best for treating chronic pain, which is persistent or recurrent pain. Chronic pain can be associated with old injuries or illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes and fibromyalgia.
Warm showers or baths, or heat packs can be used to alleviate symptoms, but some basic rules of thumb should be followed. For instance, soaking in a warm bath can do wonders, but getting in and out of the tub can be precarious. Take care to move slowly so you don’t aggravate your current pain, or injure yourself in a fall.
Heat packs are great for targeting specific areas; however, you should only apply it for about 20 minutes, or as long as your doctor recommends. Also, if you suffer from an ongoing injury, apply heat before exercising; applying heat after can aggravate the existing pain. Finally, consider a hot pack that also comes with a soothing deep-penetrating massage disc. Since massage also works to relieve muscle tension and soreness, it’s the perfect complement to heat therapy and allows for customizable pain relief.
Play it Cool: The Benefits Cold Therapy
Cold temperature helps numb sharp pain and reduces inflammation by narrowing blood vessels and decreasing blood flow to the injury. For instance, your body’s natural response to injury is swelling. This swelling tends to compress nearby tissues, causing pain. Cold slows down blood flow to an injury and thus limits swelling, helping to relieve the pain.
When to Use Cold Therapy
Generally, cold therapy, like ice packs, should be used to help fresh injuries such as sprains, strains and bruises. However, ice packs shouldn’t be used if the affected area has lacerations or burns. Cold therapy can also help relieve pain that occurs with exercise; however, unlike heat, you should apply ice after going for a run – not before – as it helps reduce post-exercise inflammation.
While cold therapy is often called ‘icing,’ actual ice should never be applied directly to the skin. An ice pack is preferable, as they often come in a soft case to protect the skin and are able to conform to the body. Ice packs are available in many forms but the latest technology is a gel pack that’s infused with ceramic beads. The ceramic beads allow the pack to cool down, or heat up, faster. They also help the pack to retain its temperature longer than similar products. By maintaining an optimum temperature, the user can experience longer and faster pain relief.
While massage is effective at managing or temporarily alleviating symptoms, it is always wise to consult a physician, pharmacist or nurse practitioner for prescribed treatment options.
Whether your pain is new or old, persistent or sporadic, it can keep you from enjoying your daily life. So give yourself the greatest chance at pain-relief success by exploring all the options – including temperature therapy. However, while massage can be effective, it is always wise to consult a physician, pharmacist or nurse practitioner for prescribed treatment options.
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