Hot and Cold Therapy

What to use in the case of a new injury and what to use for a longer term, chronic injury?

New or Acute Injury

What should I use?

Cold packs are great for the initial (acute) stages of an injury, strain or sprain.

How should I do it?

  • Ideally use a reusable gel ice pack, available in most large pharmacies. However a bag of frozen peas (or summer-fruit medley if you prefer) will also do the job.

  • Wrap your ice pack with a damp cloth, as the water helps conduct the temperature through the skin.

  • Apply the pack onto the injured area, but don’t leave it there for too long. It is usually more beneficial to apply an ice pack in alternation – 3-4 minutes on, 3-4 minutes off.

Repeat the whole process at least twice a day if you possibly can.

How does it work?

The ice pack has a two-fold effect:

  • Whilst being applied to the injury, the cold helps to calm the painful inflammatory response which occurs around an acute injury.

  • When the cold is removed, the body’s natural response is to send more blood to the area, to warm it up again. This is an important effect, as the fresh blood, carrying repairing proteins and nutrients, will help speed up the healing process.

Long-Term or Chronic Injury

What should I use?

In chronic injuries, when symptoms have lasted over a month or so, it is usually most effective to apply both hot and cold in alternation.

How should I do it?
  • Prepare an ice pack wrapped in a damp cloth, a large bowl of hot water and a small towel.

  • Soak the towel in the water, wring and apply to the injured area.

  • Apply for 1-2 minutes to superficial injuries (e.g. neck, shoulders, wrists and hands, ankles and feet) or 3-4 minutes for deeper injuries (e.g. back, hips or knees). You may need to soak the towel again during this time to keep it warm.

  • Remove the towel, place it back in the bowl, and apply the ice pack for the same length of time.

  • Repeat steps 2 and 3 several times, until the ice is no longer cold and the hot water no longer hot. Always end on cold.

Repeat the whole process at least twice a day.

How does it work?

In chronic injuries, blood supply to the affected area is often poor due to prolonged pain and loss of normal function.
The drastic changes in local temperature created by the hot and cold applications encourage more blood to and from the treated area (cold – blood is diverted away, hot – blood returns).

The higher volume of blood reaching the area, carrying repairing proteins and nutrients, helps the tissues recover faster.

In chronic injuries this is particularly important, as the rate of repair in the tissues must exceed the rate of wear & tear which occurs during everyday activities.