If you play sports or are active in any way, there is a chance that at some point you will become injured. Whether you sprain, strain, twist, dislocate, or even if you have a chronic injury, heat and cold therapy (a.k.a. cryotherapy) will play a large part in soothing pain, reducing swelling and helping you heal faster. As most athletes and sport enthusiasts know, there is a brilliant formula essential to treating injuries known as RICE, or "Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation."
Heat or Cold?
Learn it and live by it. Here's how to choose between using heat or cold to treat your body.
** Use it immediately after exercising or incurring an injury. The cold temperature restricts the flow of blood to a swollen or inflamed joint, muscle, ligament or tendon and helps numb the area. Not only will this provide temporary pain relief, but it will also protect the tissues from becoming damaged.
** Ice for 10 to 15 minutes per session as often as needed until the swelling has gone down or after the pain has subsided. Be sure to wait enough time between sessions for the skin to warm. Each time the area heats up again, blood flow is increased and helps speed up recovery.
** Be very careful not to apply cold directly to the skin as it can create a cold-burn on the skin. If you just want to use a bag of ice on an injury, be sure to cover it with a towel or piece of clothing.
** Note that cold therapy can also be used after exercising on chronic injuries that tend to flare up after an intense workout.
** Heat therapy is commonly used on chronic or acute injuries that result in stiffness, soreness or pain. Applied heat helps increase blood flow to an area and release tension and stress. It's a great method for treating low back pain, cramps or a pinched nerve.
** Heat therapy can also be used for warming up the muscles or joints before a workout, a great idea for those with a chronic injury. Never use heat therapy after a workout though.
** As with cold therapy, be sure not to apply heat directly to the skin since it can cause a superficial burn.
Types and Styles
While a simple hot bath or bag of ice can be an inexpensive method of soothing muscle aches and pains, there are many therapy products available that can make treating your body more convenient. Multipurpose hot/cold packs, which can be heated or chilled depending on your needs are both affordable and versatile and tend to be one of the first choices by consumers. For everyone who wants something extra, check out the selection of products below.
There are several brands to choose from and several designs, most of which are meant to multitask (so you can ice any body part). Here are some trusted brands:
* Rapid Relief
* Thera Med
Also check out Mueller Hot/Cold Wraps. These work really well. The elastic strap let's you use it on lots of different body parts, from your back and shoulders to a pulled hamstring. It will even hold on your knee well enough that you can walk around without it falling off. You want the "small" one -- the new "large" one doesn't have the awesome strap that makes these so nice.