Heat or Ice
The use of hot and cold thermodynamic therapy are two of the most used types of non-invasive and non‑addictive pain-relieving therapies for muscle pain, joint pain and even internal pains. Which one you use depends on many factors. In general, for an acute injury with inflammation and possibly bruising and swelling, ice will decrease the blood flow to the injury site and therefore decrease inflammation and swelling. Pain which is chronic can be assisted with heat, which will promote blood flow to the area and thus encourage repair and healing.
The following information can assist as to the when’s and how’s to use thermodynamic therapies.
Can cold therapy help? How can ice help?
The use of ice or cold therapy will slow down the flow of blood to the injured area thus reducing pain and swelling. The use of cold therapy will slow circulation, reduce inflammation, muscle spasm and pain. It can be used for areas of an acute injury which has visible signs of swelling and/or bruising. Cold is applied by an ice, gel pack or even frozen vegetables. Cold treatment should only be used for 24 to 48 hours after the initial injury. Ice therapy can be fabulous for strains, sprains, lumps – bumps and bruises that may occur in sports or clumsy life. Apply cold packs or ice bags to the injured area for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Ice is not to be applied for any longer than 20 minutes every 2 hours. It is advisable to wrap ice or ice packs in a thin towel prior to applying. At the Natural Health Practice, there are herbal products like Zheng Gu Shui (mend the broken bone liquid) or San Huang (Herbal Ice) which can be used to assist.
Heat therapy, what is it doing?
Heat can dilate blood vessels, which increase the blood flow and supply of oxygen and nutrients to reduce pain at the site of the joint, it also reduces sore muscles, tendons and ligaments. Heat can decrease muscle spasms and improve range of motion by improving flexibility of tendons and ligaments.
Heat can be supplied in many ways such as electric or microwavable wheat heat pads, hot water bottles and hot water baths. At the clinic, we also use moxi-bustion therapy which can be applied in many different ways, from using moxa sticks to rice grain moxa. All heat given should be warm to hot, but not burning. There should a consistent temperature for optimum results.
Can heat be used safely?
Yes if followed correctly. If applying at home do not place directly on skin, instead, wrap the hot source in a thin towel and do not use for longer than 20 minutes, unless requested. Also, do not use if there is swelling, poor circulation or diabetes, open wound or stitches. At the practice, we will use heat in conjunction with products like Woodlock (warm arthritic oil) or Tiger Balm to increase the warming effect. In addition, during the colder winter months, we may also use ginger or garlic made biscuits to use with moxa therapy (more on this in the colder months).