When To Use Cold Therapy vs. Heat Therapy

You’ve likely heard of using both cold and heat therapy to relieve pain, but you might not know when it’s appropriate to use each one. Let’s take a look at the differences between cold therapy and heat therapy so you can make the best decision for your needs.

What is Cold Therapy?

Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, involves using either an icepack or cold surface to reduce inflammation and pain. It’s often used to treat injuries, such as sprains or muscle strains.

It involves the constriction of blood vessels, which can reduce swelling and pain. Cold therapy is also thought to numb the area, providing temporary relief from discomfort.

You can do cold therapy by applying a cold pack to the area for 15-20 minutes at a time. It’s important not to apply the ice directly to your skin, however. Instead, wrap the ice pack in a towel or piece of cloth to evenly distribute the coldness.

What is Heat Therapy?

Heat therapy, also known as thermotherapy, involves using heat to relax muscles and reduce stiffness. It’s often used to relieve tension headaches or menstrual cramps.

Heat therapy can improve blood flow and increase the flexibility of your joints. It’s thought to work by reducing pain signals sent to your brain. It can also be used to relax your muscles before or after physical activity.

Heat therapy involves applying a heat pack to the affected area for a short period of time. You can also take a warm bath or shower to help relax your muscles.

When Should You Use Cold Therapy?

You should use cold therapy within the first 48 hours after an injury. It can help reduce swelling and pain. Cold therapy is also a good option if you have a headache or muscle cramp.

Additionally, if you have any kind of circulatory or neuropathic problem, you should absolutely not use cold therapy. It is also not used for the treatment of any chronic conditions or open wounds.

Since applying ice directly to the skin can cause frostbite or permanently damage tissue, it’s important to take care when using cold therapy and cover it with a towel or use a cold pack.

When Should You Use Heat Therapy?

Heat therapy is typically used for more chronic conditions, such as arthritis or tension headaches. It can also be used before or after physical activity to loosen up your muscles. If your body feels achy or slightly uncomfortable, heat therapy can mitigate some of the pain.

However, heat therapy should not be used on any acute injuries or open wounds. These include burns, sunburns, and infections as well as sprains or strains that are less than 48 hours old.

Additionally, if you have any kind of circulatory problem, you should not use heat therapy without first consulting your doctor.

As with cold therapy, it’s important to take care when using heat therapy and make sure you don’t burn yourself. You should always test the temperature of the heat pack before applying it to your skin.


So, when should you use cold therapy vs. heat therapy? If you have an acute injury or headache, cold therapy is a good option. For more chronic conditions, such as tension headaches or arthritis, heat therapy can help. Just be sure to take care and consult your doctor if you have any concerns.

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