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Ice cubes with text saying "The Best Ways to Reduce Swelling"

Hot or Cold? Tips to Reduce Swelling

If you’ve sustained an injury or have a condition that causes swelling, there will be pain that comes along with it. There are times when you will need to apply heat or a cool compress in order to reduce swelling. The Health Encyclopedia from the University of Rochester Medical Center states that hot and cold therapy both serve different functions and choosing either hot or cold solutions can help you relieve your pain faster! Below are some tips to help you decide which temperature is best for you.

When You Should Use Heat Therapy

There are specific reasons to use heat on a sore area of your body. Heat will help to open up your blood vessels and bring more oxygen and nutrients to that specific area. This is great for sore muscles, ligaments, and tendons. In addition, heat can also help you to reduce muscle spasms and even improve your range of motion. This will help you to alleviate your pain. Heat can be applied in either dry or moist fashions, such as a heating pad or hot water. Dry sources of heat might dry out your skin, so if you use a dry method, put something in between the heat and your skin. A water-based form of heat therapy might do a better job of penetrating deeper. If possible, it's best to maintain a constant temperature that is warm, but not too hot. You don’t want to burn yourself with heat therapy. Heat should be used if you’re experiencing chronic muscle or joint pain. If you are already experiencing swelling, heat should be used after a cold form of therapy is used because the heat could cause more swelling if not done correctly.

When You Should Apply Cold Therapy

There are times when using cold therapy will work better for you. Cold therapy will slow down blood flow to the injury which will reduce overall swelling. This will also reduce muscle spasms and pain, but cold is typically used when the area is already swollen and/or bruised. Cold therapy is typically used first in order to bring down the initial swelling of the affected area. Afterward, you may choose to switch to heat therapy in order to relax the surrounding muscles. Just like with heat therapy, you shouldn’t apply cold compresses directly to your bare skin. There should be something between the affected area and the compress, otherwise, you risk doing further damage.

Safety Tips for Both Heat and Cold Therapy

  • You should only use either heat or cold therapy for 20 minutes at a time, otherwise you can risk causing burns or frostbite. You can use it more than once a day, just give your skin a break in between sessions.
  • Call your doctor if you find that neither heat nor cold therapy is improving your condition.
  • If you have circulation problems, stick with heat therapy for pain relief. This will benefit both conditions.
  • If you have an injury in an awkward location, try using either a heating or cooling compress that is gel or another malleable form. This will maximize your comfort.