Hot Packs v. Cold Packs

Which one should you use and when?

With numerous students going back to school and starting sports, sports related injuries will be on the rise. Injuries are a common aspect of both contact and non-contact sports as well as typical play time for younger children. A lot of the minor injuries can be treated at home with the right knowledge. A common confusion I have found in my practice is that many people are not always sure when they should be using hot or cold packs. When these resources are not used appropriately it can delay healing. If you’re a teenager, or the parent of a teenager, you know getting back on the field is of upmost importance.

Hot Packs/Warm Compresses

When applied to an injured joint or muscle, heat works through multiple modalities. To keep it simple, it relaxes the muscle. A relaxed muscle can heal faster than a muscle that continues to be used and worn down. Heat will also cause the blood vessels to dilate meaning more blood and oxygen to the injured area. Increased blood flow means more relaxation, more oxygen, faster healing.

Heat should only be used when there are no visible signs of inflammation, which include swelling, redness, and brusing . Placing heat on an area that is still swollen, inflamed, or bruised will only add to the swelling and pain. Heat is never recommended as part of the initial treatment. Only use heat after all signs of inflammation have resolved, which usually takes place in 48 hours. Heat can be applied for 20 minutes at a time with at least 1 hour rest periods. When applying heat, always cover the heat pack in a towel to avoid skin burns. Never place heat on an area of your body that has poor circulation or that is numb

Never Place a Heat Pack on an Area That is Still Swollen

Cold Packs/Cold Compresses

Cold packs are used for their anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. Immediately after an injury, inflammation is the driving factor that causes pain and limits mobility of the injured limb. Thats why cold packs are the recommended option immediately following an injury. The general recommendation is that ice be used for the first 48 hours or until all visible inflammation is resolved. Ice can be used 3–4 times per day at 20 minute intervals taking the same precautions listed above with heat packs. Never place a cold pack directly on the skin!

Cold Packs For the First 48hours After an Injury.
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