When you injure yourself, tweak a muscle, over-extend a joint, or even stub your toe, what’s the first thing you reach for? Many of you likely reach for the bag of frozen peas sitting in the back of your freezer, but some of you may head to the microwave to heat up a hot compress.
Humans have used heat and cold to treat various injuries for centuries, but to this day, it can still be tricky to figure out which to use on a case-by-case basis. Unless it’s your field of expertise, you’re probably unaware of the ins and outs of cryotherapy and thermotherapy (cold and hot therapy). Unfortunately, that might mean you’re handling your injuries all wrong.
We’re here to clear up some of the confusion and set the record straight on hot and cold therapy. From ice baths to hot tubs, we’ll look at what treatments to use, when to use them, and how to help yourself heal most effectively. That way, the next time someone asks, “is it ice or heat for pulled muscles?” you’ll be ready to help!
To get the rundown of temperature therapies, keep reading!
When it comes to understanding temperature therapy, it’s essential to understand what each therapy does to your body when you use it. Once you understand the actual physical effects either therapy can have, you’ll be well equipped to put them to the test!
Heat therapy, or hot therapy, is a great tool when used correctly. To get the most out of your heat therapy, use it to:
- Relieve pain in muscles
- Work through joint stiffness
- Relax and loosen tight areas of the body
- Reduce muscle spasms
In general, heat is going to work well on muscles and joints that are slightly inflamed. This is because heat helps to dilate blood vessels, which allows for better circulation and relaxation. You can use heat therapy by either applying heat directly to the affected area or immersing yourself in hot water.
There are a few different types of heat therapy, and they are usually broken down into two categories; moist heat and dry heat. The two types can both be used interchangeably, but one may be easier than the other, depending on the situation.
Dry Heat Therapies
Even though it’s not a very common term, you’re probably familiar with most of the types of dry heat therapy. These therapies all work by conducting heat or transferring heat through direct contact with your body. This mainly includes:
- Heating Pads
- Dry Heating Packs
- Electric Heating Wraps
In some instances, saunas are grouped into this category as well.
Moist Heat Therapies
As opposed to dry heat therapy, moist heat therapy works using convection heat, where the heat is transferred via a liquid or gas that surrounds the body. Some examples of moist heat therapy include:
- Hot Tubs
- Steamed Towels
- Moist Heating Packs
Though dry and moist heat can be used interchangeably, dry heat therapy is often best for localized pain or pain in a singular part of the body. Moist heat therapy is believed to work more effectively than dry heat in some cases and works better for widespread pain or stiffness.
Where heat therapy is fantastic for muscles and stiffness, cold therapy is an excellent tool to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling, and briefly numb sore tissues. There are also some amazing long-term cold therapy benefits, both physically and mentally.
While heat helps dilate blood vessels, cold therapy constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow to a particular area. This, in turn, helps to reduce swelling and lessen tissue damage from an injury.
Cold Therapy Types
Cold therapy can either be localized or regional, depending on the target of the treatment. For a localized treatment, you are targeting a minor area or injury, while a regional therapy targets most or all of the body.
Some examples of localized cold therapy include:
- Ice packs
- Ice massages
- Cold compresses
- Damp towels
Note: Never put ice directly on your skin, as prolonged exposure can lead to tissue and nerve damage! Cold therapy should avoid extremely cold temperatures, as this can be dangerous to your health.
Regional cold therapy, on the other hand, looks like :
- Ice baths and cold plunges
- Cold showers
- Cryotherapy chambers
For injuries, you will most likely use localized cold therapy to target the specific area of the strain or swelling. Regional cold therapy can help relax muscles and improve your circulation after a workout, but you might also want to try it out as a daily wellness routine!
In some cases, both hot and cold therapy can work together to provide relief. Mostly, hot/cold therapy is best for injuries a few days after they have occurred. Start by reducing the swelling and inflammation with cold therapy before switching to hot therapy to increase the blood flow to the area.
Switching between the two therapies will promote better blood flow to the injured area and can help speed along the recovery process as time goes on. If you’re interested in hot and cold therapy, or either of the therapies on their own, check out our Hot/Cold PLUNGE tub! With a range from 50 to 103 degrees (Fahrenheit), you can get the best of both worlds in a single tub.
Aside from the physical benefits, ice bathing or cold plunging can make a tremendous mental health tool. Simply by submerging in a cold tub for a few minutes at a time, you can help increase your energy, mental strength, and resilience while simultaneously working to reduce your aches and pains!
Here at PLUNGE, this is our favorite overall temperature therapy because it targets the mind and body at the same time! Cold plunging can be used in almost any scenario for several different reasons and still be very effective.
That’s why we’re here to spread the word on cold plunging and cold therapy! We want to make “ice baths for wellness” as common as “coffee for waking up.” We know firsthand all the excellent benefits of cold plunging, and we’d love to share it with you! Check out our blog or FAQ section to start on your cold plunge journey.