A Combination of Hot and Cold Therapy May Be Just What You Need to Treat Pain5 years ago | Back Pain
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
If you are breathing, chances are you have experienced some type of physical pain in your life whether it be due to injury or having some type of chronic health condition such as arthritis or fibromyalgia.
Pain can be intense and really affects the quality of your life. Some even say it may be “better to die once and for all than to suffer pain for all of one's life.”
And despite “decades of research, chronic pain remains poorly understood and notoriously hard to control,” (WebMD).
Sometimes pain is managed with highly addictive drugs called opioids. Now opioids have contributed to a drug epidemic in America.
So clearly it’s important for us all to be proactive about pain management and explore credible alternative therapies to alleviate pain. Two pain relieving therapies are cryotherapy and thermography.
Cryotherapy (cold therapy)
You are probably very familiar with applying an ice pack on a rolled ankle to reduce swelling or maybe on an injured knee. This is a form of cold therapy. Cryotherapy, sometimes referred to as cold therapy, has become a pretty popular treatment for pain these days.
(With certain injuries, the general treatment routine usually falls under “R.I.C.E.,” rest, ice, compression, elevation).
Many star athletes, including LeBron James and Rafael Nadal, use cryotherapy (particularly whole body cryotherapy (WBC)) to speed up injury recovery, reduce inflammation, reduce muscle spasms and more.
Cold therapy promotes vasoconstriction or constriction of the blood vessels. When the blood vessels constrict, blood circulation is slowed which in turn reduces redness, swelling, spasms and pain.
The cold temperature may numb sharp pain. It can even reduce nerve activity, which may also provide some pain relief. Essentially, cold therapy may be good for pain.
Thermography (heat therapy).
Unlike cold therapy, heat therapy increases the flow of blood and nutrients to various areas of the body. Heat is sometimes used to alleviate muscle stiffness and pain. It is also reported to be great for chronic low back pain as well as chronic pain in general.
“There is more support to use heat for back pain, because muscle tightness tends to predominate,” according to Harvard Health.
Hot temperatures widen blood vessels, which usually promotes circulation. This increased circulation, in turn, will usually provide the nutrients the body needs to recover and reduce pain.
Heat therapy may involve applying a heating pad or maybe even going into a sauna. It may also involve taking a hot bath or using a steamed towel.
But did you know there is a combination therapy which utilizes both cold and hot therapy?
Many medical professionals suggest alternating between cold and heat therapy in order to best manage your pain.
For example, check out this very informative and helpful chart provided by the Cleveland Clinic. When you have a muscle strain, cold therapy may ease the inflammation and numb the pain. Heat therapy will usually ease the muscle stiffness after the inflammation resolves.
But heat and ice can be used together in an alternating pattern to create a “pumping” action in the circulatory system by restricting circulation to reduce swelling and then increasing circulation to a particular area. This alternation between heat and cold may result in an improved range of motion and expedited pain recovery. This type of therapy is typically used when an injury is at a week or longer maturity, and heat or ice alone has not worked.
There is even credible evidence that a combination of heat and cold therapy may be good for low back pain.
“Taken together, the findings of this study indicated that thermotherapy and cryotherapy caused low back pain to be relieved. Since these methods predictably have fewer side-effects and are economical and accessible, they could be used, alongside pharmacologic treatments, as supplementary ones for reducing pain in the patients with low back pain,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
All this information about hot and cold therapy for pain made me gain renewed appreciation for the Cryo T Shock machine as a pain relief device.
The Cryo T Shock involves the use of a very innovative machine that delivers alternating “thermal shocks” of thermography (heat therapy) and cryotherapy (cold therapy). It is usually utilized for its ability to destroy fat cells and cellulite as well as body sculpting. However, its ability to deliver cold and heat therapy together has made it an effective painkiller.
Precautions with cold and hot therapy?
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are thinking of utilizing cold and hot therapy:
- Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures may cause muscle tension and increased muscle contraction.
- Too much heat may promote more inflammation.
- Stay hydrated. Prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures can dehydrate you.
- If you are experiencing bruising and swelling, you will most likely use cold therapy.
- Cold therapy should not be used on stiff muscles or joints or if you have poor circulation.
- Both cold and hot therapy should also not be used on people who have sensory disorders without professional supervision. If the person cannot feel the cold or heat, this could be dangerous, causing burns or damage.
- Heat therapy should not be used on people with diabetes, dermatitis, vascular diseases, deep vein thrombosis or multiple sclerosis (unless with medical supervision). If you are pregnant or have hypertension, also seek medical advice first.
- Do not apply these therapies to open wounds
And don’t forget nutrition!
Another great way to manage pain is through good nutrition. Nutrients that may help keep pain away include magnesium, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, vitamin C, vitamin D and more. You can read more about this in greater detail here and check out Minerals - The Forgotten Nutrient.
Finally, make sure to take routine nutrient tests to identify any nutrient imbalances or deficiencies you may have. Good nutrition may enhance the benefits of cold and heat therapy. If you are not nutritionally balanced, the more pain you are more likely to have and the harder it will be to recover from wounds and injuries. If you discover you are nutritionally imbalanced, a competent healthcare professional can work with you to make the necessary dietary changes and recommend quality supplements where appropriate.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.