Woman with injured neck

How to Use Heat vs Cold Therapy to Treat Injuries

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Posted by Chris Freytag on March 1, 2017

When we work out, we have the best of intentions: to get stronger, lose weight, or simply improve our attitude for the day. But injuries are still bound to happen, whether from performing moves improperly, overextending ourselves through repetitive use of certain muscles, or falling and straining a muscle. From shin splints and sore shoulders to back pain—and everything in between—it can be frustrating to figure out how to heal your athletic injury.

Should you use cold therapy to treat your injury? Or heat therapy? We’re breaking down the difference between new and old injuries and what to do to recover from each—so you can get back to your workouts pain-free.

New Injuries (Acute Pain)

For injuries that are less than six weeks old, you’re looking at “acute pain” at this point. Think pulled muscles. Think twisted ankles or a tweaked back. For these new injuries, you’ll want to use cold therapy: whether by applying ice, or a cooling gel pack.

  • Ice not only numbs the pain but will decrease inflammation and swelling.

  • You do not want to use heat to treat acute injuries, because it can increase inflammation, which will delay your healing.

Old Injuries (Chronic Pain)

For injuries that are more than 6 weeks old and still hurt, you’re dealing with chronic pain. For these types of injuries—or arthritis—you’ll want to use heat. In addition, tight, achy muscles and joints react well to heat. I personally use heat on my low back regularly in the morning to improve mobility.

  • Heat works best for chronic pain because it increases blood flow and helps relax and soothe those tight or painful joints.

  • It’s best to apply heat before a workout if you have chronic pain, not after, as that can be more aggravating to your muscles.

What Should You Use?

When it comes to cold therapy, a bag of ice works but is messy. Wrap it in a towel to avoid it being too cold or dripping. When it comes to heat, a heating pad works but you need it to be plugged in. We are fans of a temperature-therapy pack, like this one from Wahl that works great for relief on-the-go or when travelling. The Hot-Cold Therapy Massager, allows you to use either hot or cold therapy, depending on the type of injury you have. The gel retains its temperature longer than other packs we’ve tried, so the cold pack stays cold and the hot pack stays hot, allowing them to treat the type of injury you have for longer than most products. As a bonus, the pack has a vibrating disc for a massaging effect that helps relieve muscle tension and soreness of surrounding muscles or the affected area.

Whatever your injury, don’t neglect it! The sooner you start treating your pain with the appropriate technique, the sooner you can get back to your workouts and get on with your life.

This post is sponsored by Wahl Wellness. We only partner with brands that align with our mission of health, wellness, and positivity—whose awesome products we think can actually improve your daily life.

Chris Freytag is a nationally recognized health and wellness expert with more than 20 years of experience.  She is also the author of seven books, dozens of fitness DVD, the founder of GetHealthyU.com, and a regular contributor to Prevention magazine as well as the HuffingtonPost and Self magazine.

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