Hot Pack or Cold Pack?
Heat and cold can be used alternatively and are often used to treat pain and relax muscles. Hot and cold agents should always be used with caution. It is a good idea to seek the advice of a health care professional prior to use.
Hot Packs and Heat Therapy
Heat therapy induces vasodilation: drawing blood into the target tissues. Increased blood flow delivers needed oxygen and nutrients, and removes cell wastes. The warmth decreases muscle spasm, relaxes tense muscles, relieves pain, and can increase range of motion. Superficial heat is available in many forms including hot and moist compresses, dry or moist heating pads, hydrotherapy, and commercial chemical/gel packs. Hot packs in any form should always be wrapped in toweling to prevent burns. Punctured commercial hot packs should be immediately discarded, as the chemical agent/gel will burn skin.
Cold Packs and Cold Therapy (Cryotherapy)
Cold therapy produces vasoconstriction, which slows circulation reducing inflammation, muscle spasm, and pain. Superficial cold should be used in the acute phase (1-3 days) of a muscle or joint injury. The duration of cold therapy is less than heat therapy; usually less than 15 minutes. The effect of cold is known to last longer than heat. Cold or ice should never be applied directly to the skin. A barrier, such as a pillow case or toweling, should be placed between the cold agent and the skin's surface to prevent skin and nerve damage. Punctured commercial cold packs should be immediately discarded, as the chemical agent/gel will burn skin. Hot and cold agents should always be used with caution. It is a good idea to seek the advice of a health care professional prior to use.