Many people use heat in the form of hot showers, heating pads, or heat wraps to ease their pain. It is also common for people to use cold techniques, such as ice packs, to reduce pain as well. This leaves many wondering which method is most effective in reducing their specific pain. In order to choose between hot or cold, it is helpful to understand what each of these methods do internally.
Heat increases blood flow. This means heat is best for reducing stiffness, increasing flexibility, and decreasing tension. When muscles feel tight, heat can help relax the muscles and increase mobility. Heat is beneficial before exercise or activity to help loosen the joints and muscles as well.
Cold slows down blood flow which makes it best for reducing inflammation or swelling. Ice can also reduce nerve activity for a short amount of time which eases pain too. Cold methods are most helpful for pain that is more short term such as a strained back or any other pulled muscle. Additionally, it can have benefits for after exercise or excessive movement since it reduces inflammation and provides a numbing effect giving you relief from the pain.
Knowing when to apply heat and when to apply ice will increase the chances that the chosen method is effective in reducing your pain.