Hot and Cold Therapy: When to Use Heat or Ice for Pain Relief
Author: Flex Wheeler
Do you suffer from chronic pain or have you recently experienced an injury? I understand how frustrating it can be to feel limited in your daily activities because of pain. Luckily, there is a simple and effective solution that can help manage your pain: hot and cold therapy.
By using heat, ice, or a combination of both, you can reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and promote healing. However, it's important to understand when to use heat versus ice, as well as how to use them effectively to achieve maximum benefits.
Whether you're dealing with a minor sprain or chronic arthritis, hot and cold therapy can be part of a solution to a wide variety of injuries. You can go for full immersion therapy or use some helpful topical products – I prefer natural pain relief with CBD for maximum effect.
In this article, I'll share everything you need to know about hot and cold therapy, including how to choose the right temperature and duration and how to incorporate it into your daily routine. So, let's get started and discover how hot and cold therapy can help you manage your pain!
What is Hot and Cold Therapy?
Hot and cold therapy involves using temperature to alleviate pain and promote healing. Heat therapy involves applying warmth to the affected area, which increases blood flow, relaxes muscles, and reduces pain and stiffness. Ice therapy, on the other hand, involves applying cold to the affected area, which reduces inflammation, numbs the area, and alleviates pain. Both heat and ice therapy can be used alone or in combination, depending on the type of injury or pain being treated.
Benefits of Hot Therapy
Heat therapy works by increasing blood flow and making your muscles relax. When heat is applied to an area, the blood vessels in that area dilate, allowing more blood and oxygen to flow to the tissues. This increased blood flow helps to reduce stiffness, improve flexibility, and promote healing.
Heat can also help to reduce pain signals by stimulating the sensory receptors in the skin, which can help to distract from the pain sensation. Many people find heat therapy to be an effective way to manage chronic pain and promote relaxation.
When to use it
Hot therapy is good for chronic pain conditions and muscle spasms and pain. Here's what hot therapy works best for:
- Stiff or sore muscles: Heat can help to relax and soothe tense or stiff muscles, and can also help to increase blood flow to the affected area. It's very helpful in post-workout muscle recovery!
- Arthritis: Hot therapy can help to reduce joint stiffness and pain associated with arthritis.
- Menstrual cramps: Applying heat to the lower abdomen can help to relieve menstrual cramps and discomfort.
- Back pain: Hot therapy can help to alleviate upper or lower back pain, particularly when it is caused by muscle tension or strain.
- Fibromyalgia: People with fibromyalgia often experience muscle pain and stiffness, and hot therapy can be an effective way to manage these symptoms.
It's important to note that hot therapy should not be used on acute injuries or areas that are swollen or inflamed.
How to do it
If you want to try hot therapy, there are plenty of ways you can do it. These include:
- Warm compress: Soak a cloth or towel in warm water, wring it out, and apply it to the affected area for 10-15 minutes.
- Warming gels or creams: For quick and targeted relief, you can apply a topical hot gel or cream directly to the affected area. I like HEMPE Hot Gel with CBD, which combines the stimulating warmth of natural ingredients like clove and menthol with the natural therapeutic benefits of CBD.
- Hot water bottle: Fill a hot water bottle with warm water and apply it to the affected area for 10-15 minutes.
- Heating pad: Use an electric heating pad or heat pack to apply warmth to the affected area.
- Warm shower or hot bath: Take a warm bath or shower to promote overall relaxation and warmth to the affected area.
Whichever method you choose, make sure that the temperature isn't too hot, otherwise you'll risk burning the skin. For best results, try to apply heat for 10-15 minutes at a time, up to 3 times a day. Of course, you can vary this depending on the severity of the pain or injury.
Benefits of Cold Therapy
Cold therapy works by constricting blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the affected area, which in turn reduces inflammation. This can help to reduce pain and swelling, and also numb the area. Cold therapy can be especially effective for acute injuries, such as sprains or strains.
When to use it
Ice therapy is best for acute injuries or inflammation. Here's when you should use it:
- Acute injuries: Cold therapy is often used immediately following an injury, such as a sprain, strain, or bruise, to help reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain. If you suffer an injury, you probably know the RICE (Rest Ice Compress Elevate) process.
- Tendinitis: Cold therapy can help to reduce inflammation and pain associated with tendinitis.
- Headaches and migraines: Applying cold to the neck or forehead can help to relieve headaches and migraines.
- Dental pain: Cold therapy can be used to alleviate tooth pain or swelling following dental procedures.
- Sunburn: Applying cold to sunburned skin can help to reduce redness and pain.
- Arthritis: Cold therapy can help to alleviate joint pain and swelling associated with arthritis.
It's important to note that cold therapy should not be used on areas with poor circulation, such as the feet or lower legs, or for extended periods of time. It's also often unsuitable for people with vascular diseases, open wounds, or dermatitis – so check in with your doctor if you're unsure.
How to do it
If you're ready to try cold therapy, there are a few things you can easily do at home:
- Ice pack: Apply an ice pack to the affected area for 10-15 minutes at a time, up to 3 times a day. You can use commercial cold packs or make your own by wrapping ice cubes in a towel or cloth. You could even use a bag of frozen vegetables.
- Cooling cream or gel: Apply a topical cooling cream or gel directly to the affected area. I like HEMPE Ice Gel with CBD, which uses natural oils like peppermint and pine to cool and soothe the area, along with CBD to help reduce inflammation, kill bacteria, and relieve pain.
- Cold water immersion: Immerse the affected area in cold water (like ice baths) for 10-15 minutes at a time, up to 3 times a day.
- Cold gel pack: Use a cold gel pack to apply cold therapy to the affected area. These can be purchased at most drugstores and kept in the freezer until ready to use.
As with heat therapy, it's important to make sure the cold temperature is not too extreme to avoid frostbite or skin damage. Always wrap ice packs or gel packs in a towel or cloth before applying them to the skin. You can apply cold therapy for 10-15 minutes at a time, up to 3 times a day, depending on the severity of the pain or injury.
Contrast Therapy: Alternating Hot & Cold for Better Pain Relief
Alternating hot and cold therapy can be a helpful technique for managing pain and promoting healing. This technique, also known as contrast therapy, involves alternating between hot and cold treatments, typically for short periods of time.
Here's how to do it:
- Begin with a hot treatment, such as a warm compress, for 3-4 minutes.
- Follow the hot treatment with a cold treatment, such as a cold compress, for 1-2 minutes.
- Alternate between hot and cold treatments for 20-30 minutes total, ending with a cold treatment.
Alternating hot and cold therapy can be beneficial for sports injuries, and for people with arthritis or another form of joint pain or stiffness.
Benefits of Topical Hot & Cold Gels
Hot and cold therapy is a great way to manage pain, but you won't always have time for (or want to) full body immersion in a hot or ice bath. Some topical options like hot compresses and ice packs are effective, but they can be messy and impractical if you're out at the gym or in the office, for instance. That's where topical creams and gels come in.
Here's why I love using hot and ice muscle and joint gels:
- They offer targeted relief: Creams and gels can be applied directly to the affected area, providing targeted relief where it's needed most. This is why topical pain relievers can sometimes be even more effective than oral painkillers – you can learn more in our guide to topical vs. oral medications.
- They're convenient: Topical creams and gels are easy to apply and can be used almost anywhere, making them a convenient option for on-the-go pain relief.
- They're versatile: There are many different types of hot and cold creams available, making it easy to find one that works for your specific needs. You can choose something containing a pharmaceutical painkiller like ibuprofen, or go for natural pain relief (which is often better for managing chronic pain long term).
Try Hempe's Natural Hot and Cold Therapy with CBD
Hempe's muscle and joint gels with CBD offer some of the strongest natural pain relief I've found. If want to try hot and cold therapy and are looking for a muscle pain relief gel without ibuprofen, you can't get much better than this.
With the HEMPE Hot & Ice Combo, you'll get both the hot and cold gels to use however you see fit. The hot gel is great for warming up stiff, sore, and achy muscles and joints, while the cold gel is best for soothing inflammation and swelling.
Both benefit from the therapeutic effects of CBD, which regulates pain perception, inflammation, immune response, and more. It's a natural alternative to pharmaceutical solutions, so it's much more sustainable for long-term use.
Even better, all of Hempe's products are 100% THC-free (so there are zero psychoactive effects), and it's also free from preservatives, sulphates, parabens, and petroleum. You're only getting the best natural ingredients and pure CBD to effectively relieve pain. So far, it's helped me and many others with chronic pain (and you can check out the reviews to prove it).
Try Hempe's CBD pain relief cream today to get the best of both worlds: hot and cold therapy with an added touch of natural pain relief.
Still not sure about using CBD for your muscles and joints? Learn more about how and why it works in our guide to using CBD for pain!
About the author:
Kenneth "Flex" Wheeler is a retired IFBB professional bodybuilder. He won the Arnold Classic four times and was once described by Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of the greatest bodybuilders he had ever seen. Since retirement, Wheeler focused on martial arts and has become a body transformation specialist, sharing his passion and helping others get in shape.