Similar to most therapies, heat and cold therapies are used for relieving pain. When you think of these two types of treatments, a few questions come to mind, like, which one is better? What are the risks of using these therapies? But fear not, here we will explain how these two therapies work and the benefits and risks that come with them. It is essential to know when to use each treatment for your pain. Besides, we will also cover how to combine these therapies for the best results.

Let’s get started!

Heat Therapy 

Applying heat therapy on your area of pain can be relaxing; it soothes tight joints and muscles by increasing blood circulation and improving motion range. Typically, heat is recommended for sore, and aching muscles, arthritis, and chronic injuries. Use heat on your skin for approximately 20 minutes, but don’t use too much heat to prevent burning your skin. Try having a towel between your skin and the heating pad.

For best results, you should utilize heat therapy in some of the following ways;

  • Steamed shower
  • Hot water bottle
  • Hot bath
  • Sauna session
  • Heated gel pack
  • Heating pad
  • Steamed shower

When using this therapy, you can use regional, local or full body treatment. Local treatment is meant for specific parts with pain, like a tense joint or muscle. You can use a hot towel or a heating pad for this type of injury since you only need to treat one area of pain.

On the other hand, regional treatment is ideal for more extensive tension or pain and could be applied using a large heating gel pack, hot towel, or heat wraps. As for whole-body therapy, you should use a hot bath or sauna.

When to Avoid Heat Therapy

There are a few circumstances where you should not use heat therapy. If the area in pain is swollen or badly bruised, you should consider using cold therapy. Also, heat therapy should not be used on an open wound. What’s more, individuals with some pre-existing conditions should avoid using this therapy since they are more susceptible to complications such as burns. These pre-existing conditions include;

  • Deep-vein thrombosis
  • Dermatitis
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Vascular disease

It is best to ask your doctor before using heat therapy if you have hypertension or a heart condition. As for pregnant women, consult a physician before utilizing hot tubs and saunas.

Cold Therapy

Cold therapy is to be applied on areas with severe pain like a strain or sprain. Utilizing cold therapy immediately after an injury happens is vital since this is when the pain is intense, and there is inflammation and swelling. The ice limits your blood vessels, decreasing blood circulation and swelling in the area of pain. Cold therapy is incredible at reducing and relieving pain.

Like heat therapy, do not place the ice directly on your skin; use a cloth between your skin and the ice to avoid skin damage. Leave the ice on the infected part for approximately 20 minutes. There are several ways to apply this therapy, including;

  • Frozen vegetable
  • Gel pack
  • Coolant sprays
  • Ice pack
  • Ice baths
  • Ice massage

Cold therapy can also be used in the following three ways;

  • Cryo-stretching – This method is applied to lessen muscle spasms after stretching.
  • Cryo-kinetics – It blends cold therapy and working out and can be handy for ligament strains.
  • Full body cold therapy deals with not only the injured area but the whole body.

When to Avoid Using Cold Therapy

Individuals with sensory illnesses that prevent their bodies from feeling specific sensations are not supposed to use this therapy since they might not feel anything if it causes discomfort or pain. This also includes people with diabetes since it can lead to nerve damage and decreased sensitivity.

Moreover, it would be best if you did not use cold therapy on rigid joints or muscles. In case you have poor circulation, you should also not apply it.

Combining Both Cold and Heat Therapies

It is best if you place ice on the affected area. But, for more chronic conditions like arthritis or severe pains or aches, go for heat therapy, and then finish your workout or stretching comfortably and use ice afterward to reduce any inflammation in your affected area.

This is the best way to combine heat and cold therapy to achieve the best results, and in case you require modifications, you should consult your doctor.

Benefits of Heat and Cold therapy 

Heat therapy is soothing to your tense and stiff muscles. It improves blood circulation in the injured area. It is also easy and convenient since, for instance, if you need a full body treatment, you have to prepare a warm bath in your hot tub or go to a sauna.

Cold therapy helps ease the strained muscles, and for best results, apply this therapy immediately after an injury happens. It reduces the circulation of blood and swelling, thus relieving you of your pain.

Heat Therapy Risks 

Heat therapy is supposed to utilize warm and not heat temperatures. If you go for the extremely heat temperatures, you will burn your skin. Heat therapy should be used very carefully; for instance, if you have an infection, there is a possibility that using heat therapy could increase the chances of the infection spreading.

The heat used on an infection should not be left to sit for over 20 minutes. If after the therapy you identify increased swelling, stop the treatment, and see a doctor immediately. If heat therapy has not decreased the pain of your infection seven days later, or if the discomfort increases, make sure you visit a doctor.

Cold Therapy Risks 

You have to be very careful when utilizing cold therapy because if you leave it on your infection for too long, it could result in tissue, nerve, or skin damage. Moreover, if you have a heart condition, consult your physician before applying cold therapy. You should visit a hospital if this treatment has not reduced your inflammation or swelling within two days.


Knowing exactly when to apply cold or heat therapies will considerably affect the effectiveness of these treatments.

Certain instances will need both heat and cold therapy. For example, patients with arthritis should use heat therapy for stiff joints and cold therapy for inflammation and severe pain.

Here at T98 chiropractic and rehab center, we have been using heat and cold therapy on our clients for a long time, and you can be sure you will leave our premises feeling much better. In case there are any issues, you can also consult one of our qualified doctors. Call us today, and let us help you relieve those muscles of their tension and pain, and leave you feeling and looking healthier!