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Cold Compress vs. Heat Packs | PhysioRoom Blog

Find out how to treat your injuries and conditions with hot and cold therapies. Learn how and when to use cold compresses and heat packs here.

Cold Compress vs. Heat Packs

Just about everyone knows that both heat and cold can help treat sports injuries, but a lot of people don’t know specifically when it’s appropriate to use a cold compress treatment or a heat pack to treat a problem.

Different types of injury require different types of treatment, but it can be confusing to know which treatment – whether it’s an ice pack or a heat pack – is appropriate to which type of injury. Here, we will explain when to use the different types of hot and cold treatments on certain injuries and conditions to minimise the pain.

When to use a cold compress

Cold compresses can be highly effective in treating acute sporting injuries such as sprained ankles, torn muscles and bruises. In a nutshell, muscle tissues are damaged when an acute injury or inflammation occurs.

Cold helps to numb the area affected, thereby easing the pain and tenderness as well as helping to reduce swelling and inflammation. It is important to bring these under control as soon as possible, and ice packs can also be particularly useful at controlling and managing pain in the immediate aftermath of a soft tissue injury.

Applying an ice pack, bag or towel to the injury quickly can help to cool down the muscle tissues, numbing the affected area and reducing any inflammation or bleeding which helps to keep the amount of damage caused to a minimum.

When to use heat packs

Chronic sports injuries are those which build up over a period of time, as opposed to acute injuries which occur suddenly (for example, an impact injury or a twist) and as a general rule, chronic injuries should be treated with heat therapy.

Hot packs can help to loosen and relax tired muscles, but should not be used directly after physical exertion otherwise lactic acid can start to build up in the muscles which are still in their “working” state.

When using heat treatments on a chronic injury or condition, you should take your heat pack and apply it to the affected area for around 15 to 20 minutes at a time. If the heat starts to cause any problems, then you can use a thin cloth to mask some of the heat but it’s important that as much can get through to the injury, ache or pain as possible.

 

You can read about hot and cold treatments in greater detail in this guide.