Expert Advice- Healthcare

Hot and Cold Therapy

Perhaps the easiest, most inexpensive and most accessible form of therapy is hot or cold therapy. Those with pain from conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and back pain often find some pain relief from either heat or cold therapy, or a combination of both. The basic difference between the two therapies is that heat therapy causes vasodilatation, which increases blood flow, thereby providing oxygen and nutrients and removing cell waste. Conversely, cold therapy causes vasoconstriction, slowing circulation and reducing inflammation and pain. It is a good rule of thumb to avoid heat therapy for an area that is inflamed or swelled, and avoid cold therapy for an area that is constricted or experiencing muscle spasms. Heat therapy used for lower back pain can relieve pain from muscle spasms and tightness in the lower back. Flexibility is crucial for those with lower back pain, as many who suffer find if they can move and stretch, their pain is often alleviated. Heat therapy aids in the stretching of soft tissues around the spine by helping to increase the flow of blood and nutrients, and help heal the muscle. Take care when applying heat therapy to be sure that your form of heat is not too hot. The desired effect is for the heat to be on the area of pain long enough to radiate to the muscles, so the heat must be comfortable to ensure that you can keep it on your source of pain for a period of time without discomfort to the skin. Heat therapy includes two types of heat: dry heat and moist heat. Neither is necessarily the better or the correct one; it depends on what best aids in the alleviation of your specific pain. Sources of heat therapy include hot water bottles, electric heating pads, heat wraps, and hot baths or saunas. As there is a wide variety, it is best to try different methods to determine which works best for you. Cold therapy can be just as effective as heat therapy, but the application time is considerably shorter. While heat therapy is usually applied for 30 minutes to 2 hours, cold therapy is usually only applied for 15 minutes. Pre made, reusable cold packs are available for purchase, but temporary cold therapy can be simply ice cubes in a towel. Be sure to always place a towel between the cold therapy and the skin, and never allow the cold therapy to come in contact with your skin, as it can cause skin and nerve damage. Whether your specific pain needs heat or cold therapy depends on the symptoms of the pain. Consult your physician to decide which form of therapy may be best for you.