Cold vs. Hot: Which Wins and When?

We’ve all heard the advice: “put ice on it” or “give it some heat,” but you might not be sure when to apply cold or heat. Both hot and cold therapies have advantages for pain relief depending on the type of injury.

For the best one to try, follow these suggestions:

Use cold for acute pain and new injuries that are swollen and inflamed. This includes recent tissue damage and sprains. Ice should be applied after exercise to the area of injury using a towel to protect the skin.

If you have a chronic injury, apply ice and compression after a workout. Use cold gel packs, such as Chattanooga, and wraps like Durasoft .

Need both cold and compression at the same time? Try Aircast CryoCuff cold therapy.

Heat is for chronic pain, muscle spasms, joint pain or an injury more than 24 to 48 hours old. Heat stimulates blood flow and soothes overworked muscles. Heat should only be used before exercising. To apply heat, use a heating pad, a hot wet towel or warm shower. Chattanooga has a range of quality heat products.

Treat It Right:

  • Apply ice or heat for no longer than 10-20 minutes at a time.
  • A combination of heat and cold can be used after an injury to keep swelling down and increase circulation.
  • For muscle tears or strains, start with ice and move on to heat when the inflammation has reduced.
  • Listen to your body. Heat or cold should not worsen the pain or injury.

Talk to your doctor if you have further questions about hot or cold therapy.


Types of Cold Therapy

Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, is often used to reduce soreness and pain. It works by applying cold (such as ice) to the area of injury. Not only does cold therapy help reduce pain, but it also decreases swelling and promotes healing.

There are many ways you can apply cold to your injury. Here are some of the most common ways:

  • Ice – You can simply put ice in a bag and apply it to the area of injury. This is the easiest method because ice is readily available, but you can’t control the temperature and the cold doesn’t last very long.
  • Cold packs – Cold packs are similar to ice, but they are reusable. Simply put the cold pack in the freezer and pull it out when you need to use it. Sports medicine first aid kits often have temporary cold packs which are one-time use.
  • Cryo/Cuff – Aircast makes Cryo/Cuff products designed for specific areas of your body to provide long-lasting and temperature-controlled cold therapy pain relief.

Speak with your doctor to see if cold therapy is an appropriate method of treatment for your injury. You can also check out our selection of cold therapy products and find ways to apply cryotherapy to your knee, ankle, foot, back, neck and more!

What is Cold Therapy?

Cold therapy (also known as cryotherapy), is the application of cold to an area of injury. The cold helps to numb the affected area and reduce pain. It also affects the cells at the injured area by decreasing swelling and promoting healing.*

Doctors often recommend the use of cold therapy after an injury or surgery to help with a patient’s recovery. Most people use ice or ice packs, but the cold does not last for very long – plus it can often result in a watery mess and frequent trips to the freezer.

Specialized cold therapy products such as Aircast Cryo Cuff cold therapy coolers apply consistent cold over a targeted area. The CyroCuffs also provide focused compression, which helps to minimize pain and fluids at the site of injury. Aircast Cryo/Cuffs are anatomically designed, so you can find a cold wrapper for your knee, foot, back, shoulder, hip, wrist or elbow.

Talk to your doctor to see if cold therapy is right for your injury, and start on the road to recovery!

* Duke University Health System – The RICE Principle