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.

There are many different ways to manage your pain, whether arthritis or chronic muscle pain. For example, you can try treatments like TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) or medications. Or you could also use heat and cold therapy, similar to what athletes do with recovery techniques.

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

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.

After applying hot or cold compresses to your skin, it may appear a bit pink. 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 a 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 MS 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 them 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.

Sacksythyme microwavable neck Heating pad applied to the neck can help relax muscle spasms that could cause headaches.

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, CLHT (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 as 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, exposing yourself to the 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:

  • 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.

How long should I apply heat or cold?

Utilizing the appropriate amount of heat or ice is key for maximum effectiveness. Place barriers like an apron or towel between yourself and the hot or cold pack, protecting yourself from potential burns or irritation. You may add other barriers if necessary. Monitor for redness or other symptoms of irritation in the affected region. Applying heat or cold between 20-30 minutes at a time is expected.

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.

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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