Most of us know that we should use a hot or cold compress to relieve muscle and joint pain. But, many of us just grab a bag of frozen vegetables from the freezer to compress just about anything. Did you know that using the wrong temperature could prolong your pain?
According to Rochester University, the temperature you should use is based on whether the pain is new or reoccurring. Or in the words of science writer Paul Ingram, ice is for injury (typically new and short-lived) and heat is for muscles.
“Heat can make inflammation worse, and ice can make muscle tension and spasms worse, so they have the potential to do some mild harm when mixed up,” wrote Ingram in a PainScience.com article.
“A new injury will cause inflammation and possibly swelling. Ice will decrease the blood flow to the injury, thereby decreasing inflammation and swelling. Pain that recurs can be treated with heat, which will bring blood to the area and promote healing,” according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
There are fewer restrictions when using cold therapy than heat therapy. That may be why it’s more popular. Still, using a cold compress when you should be using heat can cause more pain. Cold therapy slows down circulation and reduces inflammation. It’s an absolute go-to for swelling and bruises.
Ingram warns against mistaking neck and lower back pain for something that should be treated with cold therapy, even if it’s a new injury. In this case, it’s best to consult with your physician before applying a compress as these two areas are often mistaken for less serious injuries.