Medical Monday - Contrast therapy: when to use hot or cold therapy


Have you ever asked yourself these questions?  “When do I ice?  When would I apply heat?  When to alternate?  Why even bother?”  If you are uncertain when to use hot and cold therapy for muscles or pain relief, you aren’t alone.

Hot and cold treatments are an effective way of speeding up your recovery time by reducing swelling or inflammation.  This blog will explain the benefits of both contrast treatments to help relieve pain from sprains, strains, arthritis and more.

In general, a new injury will cause inflammation or swelling.  Pain that reoccurs can be treated with heat which promotes healing by bringing the blood back to the area.  Ice will decrease the blood flow to the injury, thus decreasing the inflammation and swelling. 


Heat Therapy

Heat therapy can relax muscles, increase circulation, and help loosen joints.  Dry heat includes electric heating pads, heat packs, hot water bottles, and saunas.  Moist heat includes hot baths and warm towels.  Do not use heat therapy on cuts, bruises or on swollen areas.  Apply heat for approximately 15-20 minutes for minor injuries.  For more severe pain, it may be beneficial to apply heat for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  You should discontinue heat therapy if discomfort increases, or if the skin is red.  Heat therapy is beneficial to treat fibromyalgia, joint disease, frozen shoulder, myalgia, or scar tissue after surgery.

Cold Therapy

Cold therapy reduces blood flow to the injured area by reducing nerve activity.  Cold therapy is most effective when applied within the first 48 hours and can include ice packs, cryotherapy, gel packs, and even ice baths in some cases.  Do not use cold therapy on stiff muscles or joints, or if you have any issues relating to circulation, diabetes or a sensory disorder.  Cold therapy should never be applied directly to the skin.  If you wrap an ice pack in a towel, for example, apply for 5 minutes at a time or until the skin becomes numb.  Do not apply ice for longer than 20 minutes.  This type of therapy is most beneficial for arthritis, ligament injuries, bursitis, pregnancy joint pain, or pain management for nerve irritation. 

Medical Mart provides a variety of products for hot and cold therapy including coolant creams, moist/dry heating pads and reusable gel packs. 

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Visit Medical Mart Heartland Town Centre for all your health care needs.  
Matheson Blvd. West, Unit 101, Mississauga ON L5R 4B8
Easily accessible by bus route 66 McLaughlin (McLaughlin and Matheson)
Phone: (905) 624-2011 Toll Free: (800) 379-4780 YouTube
Hours: Monday – Friday:  9:00 am – 6:00 pm Saturday:  10:00 am – 6:00 pm

Disclaimer:  The content in this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice for medical conditions.  Please do not stop pain relieving medication without a prior consultation with your doctor.  You should not use this information to diagnose a health problem.  Please consult a qualified healthcare provider.