How to apply heat and cold to an injury

Have you wondered if you should apply head or cold to your sore spot? Here are some pointers.

COLD brings down inflammation and swelling. It is indicated after activity, such as exercising a swollen knee or ankle. Cold is indicated after work if pain increases during the work day. Cold is indicated the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury. Cold is better than heat if the painful area is swollen or hot to touch.

HEAT is used if the injury occurred more than 48 hours previously. Heat, such as a warm shower, is often used in the morning to make movement more comfortable and less stiff. Heat relaxes muscles and is often used to make movement tolerable, such as before exerting an arthritic joint.

Sometimes, after an injury, cold and heat applications are alternated every two hours. If either cold or heat causes pain to increase it should be discontinued. These pointers will help the next time you wondering whether to apply heat or cold to a sore area of your body.


Submitted by Amber Hahn, physical therapist at Agnesian HealthCare

About Sarah Schultz

Sarah is a Licensed Athletic Trainer at Sports, Spine and Work Center. She provides Athletic Training services at Campbellsport High School and provides Industrial Services to the community through WorkSTEPS testing, the Work Hardening Program and doing ergonomic evaluations. She is an avid cyclist and barefoot runner. Sarah’s other interests include dynamic stretching, core strengthening, rehabilitation, muscle recovery techniques, and sports nutrition.

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