When to Heat Up—or Cool Down—Your Aches and Pains

Whether you accidentally overworked a muscle, developed discomfort throughout the day, or simply woke up that way, body aches can be a real pain. Your first instinct—and others’ first advice—is often to treat it with hot or cold therapy. While these may sound interchangeable, using the wrong therapy can actually do more harm than good. That’s why it’s important to understand the reasoning behind each of these at-home treatments and which to use when.

Hot Therapy:

  • Typically refers to use of hot water bottles, compresses, pads, and baths.
  • Helps dilates blood vessels to increase blood flow, which soothes and relaxes tightened muscles.
  • Treats symptoms of gout, injuries, strain, tendinitis, migraines, and may be alternated with cold therapy to treat osteoarthritis.
  • Should not be used if cramping is present, the person or area is already cold or at risk for frostbite, the person has a disorder that restricts blood flow, or on a blister or open wound.

Cold Therapy:

  • Typically refers to cold water bottles, ice, compresses, pads, and baths.
  • Reduces inflammation by decreasing blood flow, which limits swelling and tissue damage.
  • Treats symptoms of neck and back pain, spasms, stiff muscles, tendonitis, chronic inflammation, strains, and sprains, and may be alternated with hot therapy to treat osteoarthritis.
  • Should not be used if the injury is already hot or numb, on open wounds or dermatitis, on hot, red or inflamed skin, or on persons insensitive to heat.

If you’re still unsure whether to use hot or cold therapy—or any at all—on your aches and pains, it’s better not to do either: Consult a professional. Contact the pain management subspecialists at Orlin & Cohen, Long Island’s leading orthopedic practice. Immediate appointments are available: Request yours now.