Heat and Cold therapy
Okay, so before we jump into all of the information I just quickly want to reiterate the point that all injuries are different and so while I hope the information in this blog post is helpful for you, each injury should still be checked and diagnosed by a trained professional, especially if the pain is either severe or chronic, searching your symptoms online and self diagnosing might lead you to think it is the wrong thing, which in the long run can do far more harm than good.
· Soothes the muscle
· May help those with arthritis (however, not all studies support this and the benefit will likely depend on type and severity of arthritis)
· Relieves lower back pain (effective in the short term)
· Helps with the effects of DOMs (Delayed Onset of Muscle soreness) Evidence has shown heat therapy isn’t effective at preventing DOMs but can help to relive the symptoms once soreness starts.
· Can help those with excess tightness or scar tissue loosen up before exercise
· Heat therapy can help with muscular rehabilitation both in terms of movement and potential reduction in loss of muscle mass
Before we delve into the benefits of cold therapy I just want to point out there are a massive range of types of cold therapy including open water swimming and cryotherapy chambers. Cryotherapy chambers reportedly drop to temperatures as low as -160 degrees Celsius. However, a quick look on the internet shows the cost of owning a cryotherapy chamber to be somewhere between £5,000 and over £200,000 depending on the category. Alternatively, you could book a cryotherapy session, but in London this is often around £90 for 10 minutes. So we will focus on cheaper more accessible therapy options which we all have access to and can use daily.
Namely: Ice baths and cold showers.
For most of the following benefits 10-15 degrees Celsius is low enough to get these benefits, so don’t worry no need to drop down to the minus 160 of cryotherapy!
· Reduced muscle soreness
· May ease symptoms of depression (this is supported by some studies, but the sample sizes were low, if this is an area you are interested in though, there’s no harm giving it a go along with all of the other advice you have received from trained professionals!)
· Improved immunity
· Boost to your metabolism (more research is needed in this area but some studies and a historical analysis of some female Korean divers indicates that cold water could indeed speed up metabolism)
· Improved lymphatic circulation
· Reduction in swelling after injury
· Helps with itchiness (this is true for conditions such as eczema, hives and other conditions which makes the skin itch. However, it should be noted that it does this because your nerves typically can only send one signal at a time so either it’s itchy or it’s cold, so once the cold water stops this alleviation will also likely disappear)
· The following are all supported by many people’s experiences, however not much scientific research has been conducted to prove or disprove these claims; deeper sleep, increased energy levels and reduced inflammation.
Heat and cold therapy:
As listed above both heat therapy and cold therapy carry benefits with them so the obvious next question is; well which one should I choose?
The good news is that you don’t have to choose as a matter of fact in many cases a combination will be the most effective treatment so the body can receive the benefits of both. However, there are some times when one of the treatments would not be a suitable choice, such as If the affected area is bruised or swollen, in this case you would want to use cold therapy and not heat. In contrast, while you can use cold therapy on pulled muscles and joint pain heat can often be more helpful in these situations.
· If it is an injury which you have just sustained I would always recommend getting it checked by a doctor, it is far easier to treat, help and repair an injury when you know what it is rather than guessing or trying to self diagnose.
· If something feels like it helps you stick with it! I’ve known people with bad backs who swear by heat and people who swear by cold, if something works for you and you notice significant benefits in how you feel, then stick with it!
· Start off slow and steady, there is no need or benefit to suddenly jump to the extremes of boiling water and freezing water, these extremes are way more likely to do you harm than any good at all! Just start of steady and slowly work out to either longer periods of time with the stimulus or cooler or hotter temperatures.
· Might sound silly but just thought I’d mention it – NEVER let boiling water or ice make direct contact with your skin! Ice will stick to your skin and pulling it off will be incredibly painful and boiling water will seriously burn you. The effective temperatures needed to receive most of the benefits listed above can be achieved in chilly water and warm water, there is no additional benefit for pushing beyond these limits!
· Finally, never use these treatments to just mask, numb or ignore a problem – get it checked! People who use treatments such as a can of deep heat just so that they can play a football game or do a workout, rather than getting the injury properly looked at and treated are just asking for problems. There is only so long this numbing will work for and in most cases not addressing the injury sooner causes it to be worse in the end!
I hope this has helped and as always if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to message me. Also remember to consult a doctor if you are unsure how to implement any of these into your specific needs!
Next week’s blog post – How to get back into the gym?