What is the best way to reduce joint or muscle pain: heat or cold?
The application of heat and cold are two common methods to relieve pain or discomfort in the joints, tendons or muscles. When should we use them?
The application of cold?
Cold application is particularly suitable for simple contusions (direct hit on a muscle), muscle strains (severe pain during physical activity but disappears at rest), sprains, dislocations and tendonitis (pain in the tendon during physical activity or repetitive movements).
The local application of cold helps to relieve pain (analgesic effect), to reduce hematoma and edema (anti-inflammatory) and to decrease the bleeding of injured muscle fibers (hemostasis action).
It is important not to apply cold in case of contractures or cramps but rather apply heat. Cold application can change the sensitivity of the treated area and can cause cold burns on mucous membranes or open wounds (not recommended in this case).
How to apply cold?
Cold is more effective if it is applied as soon as possible after the injury and in the next 24-48 hours, for example for 10-20 minutes every 3-4 hours during the first day.
Do not apply cold directly to the skin, but use a bandage or cloth (towel, bag..) slightly moist to facilitate heat exchange. It is important to check the cooled area and ensure that cold is well tolerated and that the skin does not change in appearance due to a too long or too intense cold application.
The application of heat?
Heat is recommended for chronic pain. Applying heat increases blood circulation and helps repair damaged tissue. It allows the dilation of blood vessels that accelerates and facilitates the flow of oxygen and nutrients and ultimately relieves pressure and pain.
Heat application also reduces joint and muscle stiffness. It is particularly recommended for relieving sore neck, back, contractures, cramps or osteoarthritis problems.
How to apply heat?
There are different ways to apply heat depending on the areas to be relieved: warm bath or hot shower, electric blankets, heating pads, hot-water bottles ...