Heat or Cold for Chronic Muscle Pain?

Heat or Cold for Chronic Muscle Pain?

When your muscles experience pain or strain from an injury, doing something fast and simple to treat the issue is easy. Heat and cold therapy are both effective methods for relieving chronic muscle pain, but which works better depending on the specific nature of the issue? Let's explore the pros and cons of both treatments in more detail.

Deciding whether to use heat or cold therapy involves assessing the type of injury—acute or chronic—and the specific symptoms experienced. It’s crucial to apply these therapies correctly to avoid exacerbating the condition, such as not using heat on swollen areas or cold on muscle spasms, to ensure effective relief and avoid potential damage to the skin and tissues.

What Either Heat Or Cold Will Do

Reduce pains and aches caused by osteoarthritis, back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and neck pain with heat or cold therapy. Both can temporarily relieve symptoms, including.

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    This heating pad offers effective moist heat that deeply penetrates muscles to alleviate tension, stress, cramps, and tightness while promoting better circulation. It can also be used for cold therapy by placing it in the freezer. The pad is versatile and perfect for addressing cramps, backaches, stress, neck and shoulder tension, sinus pressure, earaches, TMJ, knees, elbows, and more. It can even be used for cuddling on a cold night.

    For temporary relief of any of these ailments, apply a hot or cold pack using any of the following products:

    • Gel packs that can be heated or frozen.
    • The bag can be filled with either ice or frozen vegetables.
    • To soothe an itching or burning area, soak a small towel or washcloth in cold or hot water (wring the towel out and fold it before applying it to the affected area).

    Wrap the package in a towel for protection if you prefer cold or heat.

    It may appear a bit pink after applying hot or cold compresses to your skin. It is normal; however, wait for your skin to return to its usual color and temperature before using fresh heat or a cold pack.

    When to use heat

    Dr. Behr explains that heat can have the opposite effect of ice; it causes small blood vessels to open, which may exacerbate inflammation rather than reduce it.

    Chronic illnesses often benefit from treatments with heat to relax tissues and increase blood circulation to the affected area. It is an excellent treatment option for chronic ailments due to injuries from the past or arthritis. While applying heat before engaging in activities may improve limb mobility, Dr. Behr advises against using treatment with heat after exercise or after an injury that has been acute due to the risk of causing swelling to get worse.

    Heating pads are the most popular heating source, but a cold therapy pack can also provide comfort for some people.

    Benefits of heat therapy

    Heat therapy expands blood vessels in an area, thus increasing circulation. A cooler temperature -- which should be warm, not hot -- will ease muscle pain, relax them, and improve mobility. Similar to cold therapy, you can apply heat therapy in many ways. For example,

    • Heat Packs or pads for heating,
    • Warm towels 
    • Saunas
    • Baths or Hot Tubs

    Saunas or warm baths provide a comprehensive body treatment, while other applications, like an herbal heating pad, target specific body areas. Increased blood flow to the affected area may be beneficial if your injury is chronic. Sometimes referred to as an "overuse" injury, chronic injuries develop slowly over time and often involve exercises combined with heat for maximum relief.

    For instance, heat may help treat low back pain when combined with exercises. However, there are some limitations and exclusions regarding the benefits of heating therapy. If it is left on long enough, it may result in burns to the skin. Avoid heating areas that have an open wound or inflammation.

    People suffering from nerve damage from illnesses like diabetes or M.S. should be mindful when using heat therapy. In addition, if you're pregnant or have hypertension or heart issues, speak with your doctor before beginning this type of heat therapy.

    Pain Management: About Heat Therapy

    Heat therapy can effectively manage chronic muscle and joint pain, often affected by arthritis. Not only does it relax your muscles, but it encourages increased blood flow and circulation, which helps alleviate discomfort.

    Heat also breaks up the lactic acid waste build-up in your muscles by improving blood flow, thereby decreasing pain and discomfort. So whenever you're feeling achy or in pain, you may want to use heat!

    Use heat therapy in different ways:

    • First, apply a heating pad or hot towel to the injured part; some come with wet inserts for moist heat.
    • Apply a heat wrap to your sore area. Heat wraps work great for soothing sore muscles during workouts or so long as you need to feel comforted with a massage right away.
    • Take a hot bath or take a warm shower.
    • Try a heated paraffin wax treatment for sore joints in the hands and feet.

    Using heating pads or hot water for your muscle aches sometimes works, but if you use heat therapy too often or improperly, undesired side effects may surface. You see, having a heating pad too close to the skin for too long could cause redness and even bring about a burning sensation, which is not what we want.

    Never use lotions with a heating pad because the combined heat can trap water under the skin. If you plan on using one, place it on spots with protective fat and don't apply it to your face or other places of sensitive skin.

    What is heat useful for?

    Heat can help relieve symptoms such as:

    • Osteoarthritis
    • Strains and strains
    • Tendonitis or chronic inflammation and stiffness in the tendon.
    • Before beginning any activity, warm up muscles or tissues by stretching them.
    • Relieve spasms or pain from back or neck injuries and lower back injuries.

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      Our Sacksy Microwavable Neck Wrap helps alleviate stiff neck and shoulder tension naturally by providing the perfect balance of moist heat. Thoughtfully designed to give you the option of either a fleece or cotton side, and made with eight heat emitting chambers to keep the filler in place. Retains heat for up to 20-30 minutes, which is the recommended timeframe for hot and cold therapy. 



      A 2006 study revealed that a group of researchers discovered that patients suffering from lower back discomfort who exercised and utilized the continuous, low-level heating pad had less discomfort than those who didn't use a heating pad.

      Previous research had revealed that for certain people, C.L.H.T. (continuous low-level heat therapy) relieved pain more effectively than oral analgesics, Ibuprofen, and acetaminophen.

      However, the efficacy of the treatment could depend on the thickness of the tissue affected by injury or pain.

      Some individuals use heat therapy, often an energizing bath, to combat D.O.M.S. (delayed onset muscle soreness).

      According to some researchers, using moist heat packs could be the most efficient method of avoiding DOMS through heat therapy.

      When not to use heat

      It is not suitable for all types of injuries. For example, a wound with a high temperature won't benefit from additional warming.

      The use of heat is not recommended when:

      • The skin is hot, red, or inflamed.
      • The person suffers from dermatitis (or an open wound)
      • The area is numb
      • The person could be sensitive to heat because of peripheral neuropathy or another similar condition.

      Consult a physician before applying cold or heat to someone with elevated blood pressure or heart disease.

      "Excessive heat should be avoided."

      When to use Cold therapy?

      Cold therapy can help reduce swelling. Applying a cold pack, bag of frozen veggies, or cold washcloth right when you first notice the injury will control swelling and reduce pain. According to Dr. Behr, exposure to cold therapy for short-term exposure is safe, but only if it is temporary.

      Benefits of Cold therapy

      Cold therapy works by constricting blood vessels around an injured area, decreasing its flow of blood. As a result, it reduces swelling, pain, and inflammation by restricting blood flow to the affected area.

      There are many methods to use the cold treatment:

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        • Ice baths or cold-water immersion
        • Sprays for cooling
        • Ice massage.

        Some applications of cold therapy, like whole-body cryotherapy rooms, might not be easily accessible and might need medical supervision. But most are safe and can be done at home with minimal risk.

        Due to its ability to decrease nerve activity in a specific region, cold therapy can also lessen your body's sensitivity to pain. This makes it an effective treatment choice for acute injuries that occur suddenly with known causes like swollen joints or tendons. Studies suggest cold therapy is most beneficial during the initial few hours following an acute injury, such as smashing a door with one finger, exercising too hard, and pulling on muscles. If swelling and pain persist after several days, discontinue applying cold therapy and consult your doctor.

        Cold therapy can effectively treat new injuries but may cause more harm than good in specific scenarios. For example, excessive application of Cold can cause numbness, tingling, burning, or itching and eventually damage the skin around it.

        In addition, individuals with nerve issues such as diabetes or neuropathy should use caution when applying cold; their decreased sense of touch may make detecting potential negative effects from ice therapy more challenging.

        Methods that involve the entire body, like immersion in cold water, could affect your heart rate and blood pressure. If you suffer from any medical condition like high blood pressure or heart disease or have trouble with circulation, consult your doctor before trying these strategies.

        Pain Management: About Cold Therapy

        Cold therapy is one of the best pain management techniques to consider if you have a joint or muscle so swollen and inflamed that it's causing you pain. Cold therapy reduces blood flow to the area, which can help to alleviate painful swelling and reduce inflammation. Plus, it numbs your muscles and other tissues in the area and slows down the pain messages sent from your nerves to your brain.

        Some ways to use cold therapy are as follows:

        • Apply a homemade cold sack or even a bag of frozen vegetables (this conforms well to many body parts).
        • Soak the affected area in a cold tub — don't make the water too icy or submerge for too long.
        • Soak a washcloth in cold water and apply it as a cold compress.
        • Buy a chemical cold pack.

        When applying cold packs to a sore area, limiting the exposure to 10-30 minutes at a time is best. Have you ever heard that red tint on the skin means it's been iced for too long? If you experience hives or skin that temporarily turns purple after icing an injury for too long, your body tells you not to do it again!

        Ice massages can be performed directly onto the skin as they aren't limited to one area.

        What is Cold therapy useful for?

        Applying a cold compress within 48 hours after an injury may help to reduce swelling.

        The cold treatment can be beneficial when:

        • osteoarthritis
        • a recent injury
        • gout
        • variations
        • tendonitis or irritation of the tendons after exercise

        Headaches can often be soothed with a cold wrap or mask applied directly on the forehead.

        Patients suffering from osteoarthritis are encouraged to perform Ice massaging or apply a cold therapy pad for 10 minutes on and then 10 minutes off.

        When not to use Cold

        The Cold is not appropriate if:

        • There is a chance of cramping due to Cold, which can worsen this
        • The individual is cold, or the region is already completely numb.
        • There's an open wound or skin blister.
        • The patient suffers from some form of vascular injury or disease or sympathetic dysfunction where a nerve issue alters blood flow.
        • The person is hypersensitive to Cold.

        Ice shouldn't be consumed immediately before any activity.

        Additional tips

        • If you are using heat therapy, be sure to protect your skin from burns. Place a towel between your skin and the heat source.
        • Wrap the ice pack or cold compress in a towel if you use cold therapy. Do not apply ice directly to your skin.
        • Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about using heat or cold therapy.

        Which to use first?

        If you are unsure whether to use heat or cold, you can try alternating both treatments. Start with heat for 15-20 minutes, then cold for 20 minutes. You can repeat this cycle 2-3 times.

        Is it safe to use heat or cold on my chronic muscle pain?

        It is generally safe to use heat or cold on chronic muscle pain. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

        • Heat:
          • Do not use heat therapy for open wounds, burns, or skin conditions.
          • Do not use heat therapy if you have decreased sensation or poor circulation.
          • Do not use heat therapy for more than 20 minutes at a time.
          • Do not fall asleep with a heating pad on.
        • Cold:
          • Do not apply cold directly to your skin. Wrap the ice pack or cold compress in a towel.
          • Do not apply cold for more than 20 minutes at a time.
          • Do not use cold therapy if you have decreased sensation or poor circulation.

        If you have any underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before using heat or cold therapy.

        How long should I apply heat or cold?

        To achieve maximum effectiveness, it is essential to use the appropriate amount of heat or ice. Always remember to place barriers like an apron or towel between your skin and the hot or cold pack to avoid any potential burns or irritation.

        If necessary, you may add extra barriers to ensure safety. Keep an eye on the affected area for any signs of redness or irritation. It is recommended to apply heat or cold for a duration of 20 to 30 minutes.

        Do Cold and heat therapy prevent muscle pain?

        Research on heating and cold therapy to treat delayed muscle pain is inconsistent. One study concluded that applying heat or cold therapy within one hour after exercising may decrease muscle soreness; however, some evidence supports applying heat before exercising. If you need help determining which method is best for you, consult your doctor before adding cold or heat therapy into your post-workout or pre-workout regimen.

        Is Cold or Heat Best for Your Pain?

        If you're agonizing between cold and heat for your sore muscles or swelling joints, think about what type of pain you have, where it is, and what your doctor has suggested. You see, many studies have been done on lower back pain, with reviews of these studies appearing in some major medical journals claiming that heat applications work best for this aching from lumbar disc injuries but that either one might help to reduce similar types of body aches and pains if used in combination with other forms of therapy like exercise rehabilitation physical therapy.

        It could be entirely up to you when choosing heat or cold for treatment for arthritis since both are said by the Arthritis Foundation to provide help for more pain from arthritis – but it's individual trial and error (it goes without saying), which will prove most effective for each person.

        The popular saying is that heat therapy is suitable for acute pain, while cold therapy helps with chronic pain. For example, cold therapy can be beneficial if you've got an overuse injury and a muscle or joint is swollen and painful following exercise; it may also feel best on a flaring arthritic joint. On the other hand, heat therapy may be your best bet to relieve sore or painful muscle symptoms or a very stiff joint.

        What are the risks of using heat or cold on my chronic muscle pain?

        The risks of using heat or cold on chronic muscle pain are generally low, but there are a few things to be aware of:


      • Burns: If heat is applied for too long or at too high a temperature, it can cause burns.
      • Increased inflammation: Heat can increase blood flow to the affected area, sometimes worsening inflammation.
      • Worsening pain: Heat can sometimes worsen pain, especially in the early stages of an injury.
      • Cold

      • Frostbite: If Cold is applied too long, it can cause frostbite.
      • Decreased circulation: Cold can constrict blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the affected area.
      • Increased muscle tension: Cold can sometimes increase muscle tension.
      • People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, should use heat or cold therapy with caution. They should talk to their doctor before using either treatment.

        A Word From Sacksy Thyme

        If you're searching for new ways to help relieve your aches and pains, don't look past the power of heat and cold! By using either heat therapy or cold therapy at home or via a healthcare professional, you can safely help ease your pain without any harmful side effects. Speak to your doctor today about which type of therapy will most likely bring you relief!

        "This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your physician to determine a treatment plan that is right for you."

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