Contrast Therapy: When To Use Hot And Cold Therapy For Muscles
Most people are familiar with the age-old advice of using ice packs and heating pads when something is sore or injured. The unfortunate reality is that there is still a lot of general confusion of when to ice, when to heat, when to alternate and why even bother.
When to use Cryotherapy:
Immediately after an injury - If you’ve ever had an injury you’ve probably been told to put ice on it. Ice is great to use immediately after an injury but can be (and should be) used for much more! Ice can calm down tissues that are inflamed and bring down swelling which can be painful and take more time than needed to calm. This can be an immediate way to bring down the pain level of a fresh injury.
To speed up recovery - Ice isn’t just used in the immediate aftermath of a strain, pull or injury. If you’re an athlete who is training at high frequency and high intensity, ice can be your best friend for post-workout relief. Many elite athletes go as far as climbing in baths full of ice water after competition or a difficult training session. You don’t have to go this far after every workout, but if you are worried about your muscles’ ability to recover quickly, doing an ice massage or taking an ice bath after a hard workout will help flush out your muscles, relieve inflammation and allow you to recover faster.
To relieve acute pain – If you’re struggling with a nagging injury, icing regularly can help relieve pain during flare ups. It’s never a bad idea to ice regularly even if the initial inflammation goes down after 48 hours of injury. Icing helps limit localized inflammation by restricting blood flow to the injured area. It can also provide soothing relief and numb acute pain.
When to use Thermotherapy:
Chronic pain, stiffness and aches – comfortable amounts of heat can sooth away muscle tension that causes chronic pain. Heat increases oxygen flow and nutrients to muscles, helping to heal damaged tissue. Soothing heat will relax stiffness in joints and muscles that are triggering stiffness and aches.
Before physical activity – it’s common to warm up muscles through physical activity before exercise or competition. If you want to take an additional step in protecting yourself from injury, heating muscles and joints before exercise can help injury prevention. Using a simple heating pad on any trouble areas for 10-15 minutes per area will help loosen up muscles so you can avoid unwanted stress.
Alternating between hot and cold therapy is called contrasting therapy. This can be beneficial and extremely stimulating.
The bottom line
Cryotherapy is better for post-workout recovery and acute injury because it:
- Reduces swelling and inflammation by constricting local blood vessels and decreasing tissue temperature, leading to decreased blood-flow
- Numbs pain by numbing nerve receptors from the decreased blood-flow
- Speeds up muscle recovery by flushing out dead blood cells
Thermotherapy is better for chronic pain and pre-workout injury prevention because it:
- Warms up muscles and joints preventing injuries like strains and tears
- Increases oxygen flow to the muscle, helping to heal damaged tissue
- Relaxes stiffness and helps eliminate toxins