Heat or Cold: Which One Is Better When You Are Injured?

Man Using Ice Gel Pack On Injured ArmIf you are in pain, often a good home remedy to start with is a hot or cold compress – but which one will work best in which situation? Should you be using cold or heat?

Heat Versus Cold

Both heat and cold can help to soothe pain and treat injuries, although they do so in different ways. Cold reduces circulation, which can reduce swelling and bleeding because it shrinks the blood vessels, reduces inflammation, and helps to reduce muscle spasms. Heat relaxes tight muscles by increasing blood flow, nutrients, and oxygen to the affected area. Here is a list of common pains and which might work better so that you can find relief:

  • Muscle pain. If your muscle pain has just started and is temporary, applying a cold compress for no more than 15 minutes at a time a few times a day can help. If the pain is ongoing (lasting longer than 6 months), heat would be best (although you should see a doctor if you have prolonged pain).
  • Joint pain. If your joints feel stiff or inflamed, it may be because of arthritis. The choice of heat or ice to treat joint pain is up to you – either one will work depending on what feels best to you. Pain caused by gout may respond to heat because it relaxes the muscles, but cold may be better for an arthritis attack because it can numb pain.
  • Nerve pain. Nerve pain might make you feel numb or create a tingling sensation, or it may feel like a radiating pain. It can be caused by a condition such as sciatica. Nerve pain responds well to cold treatments, which numb soreness and relieve inflammation. However, once any sharp pain has been treated by cold, heat can help to increase blood flow to the area.

If you’ve tried a heating pad and ice packs but you’re still in pain, or if you have noticed numbness or weakness in the affected area, these are signs that you should contact your doctor – it may be something more serious than just a strained muscle. Contact Specialty Orthopaedics for a consultation. Call the office in Harrison, New York, at 914-686-0111 for an appointment today!

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