Hot and cold packs- the never ending confusion!

There always seems to be mass confusion on cold packs and hot packs and when to apply them to an injury.  I feel it is my duty as an osteopath to write about it today to avoid mass hysteria. Sometimes even practitioners seem to give the wrong advice but really it’s a very logical solution and can mean the world of difference in reducing your pain and facilitating the healing process.

If you have a new injury (called acute), the body’s immediate reaction is inflammation, this will bring heat, swelling and joint stiffness and in most cases pain. The first port of call is to reduce this heat in the affected area through the use of a cold pack, frozen peas or corn, or gel therapy. This can be applied 2-3 days following a new injury. If you applied heat to a swollen and inflamed area the area will become more swollen and inflamed so it would appear logical to apply cold to the area.

If you use heat on a newly injured area that is already inflamed then you will make it worse causing more inflammation and more pain. The magic number for cold is 20 minutes. Then remove it off the affected area to allow circulation to come back into the injury. Leave it for an hour then you can re-apply. It is important to remember to put the cold pack in a thin layer of material such as a dish towel in order to prevent a freezer burn.

Physiotherapy and osteopathy research shows that it is often beneficial to use of cold and compression therapy, often identified as R.I.C.E. therapy.

R = Rest. Avoid over-exertion or weight bearing on the injured body part.

I = Ice.

C = Compression. Apply compression with an elastic bandage.

E = Elevation. Elevate the injured area above the level of the heart

Now the question on everyone’s lips is Heat application. That is the next step is which can include a hot compress, micro waved gel pack, heating pad, hot water bottle etc. This promotes blood flow and encourages healing. Heat should only be applied once the swelling has subsided.  At this point heat will help to promote circulation and relax muscles and reduce pain.  Don’t leave the heat pack on for longer than 20 minutes as you could sustain a burn. One should limit the application to moderate heat and apply up to four times per a day. If you have any questions please feel free to give me a ring!

Posted on the 19th April, 2013