Cold or Heat Therapy – which is best?

As a runner, there will be at no doubt that at some stage we will need to head to the freezer for the frozen packet of peas or even worse to submerge our achy bodies into an ice-cold water bath. And Likewise, at some point, we will also find the need to dust off the old hot water bottle that’s been lying under the bed for years or pile in the epsom salts into a much more pleasant hot bath.But which therapy is best to help our muscles recover and repair and which is better for treating pesky niggles and even worse injuries.
So here is everything you need to know about cold therapies and heat therapies and when to use them.

Cold therapy.
What does cold therapy do and what does it treat?

Cold therapy treatments have several uses and can help treat many things.
As well as treating muscles cold therapy can also be used to treat inflamed and sore joints.
Adding a cold compression pack to an injured or sore area reduces the blood flow and will help to slow down inflammation so the swelling will be reduced helping to stop damage to the surrounding tissues.
Cold treatments are also used as a good form of pain relief as it numbs the sore and achy muscles.
Have you ever heard of the term RICE?
RICE is advised to many runners with sore achy muscles R is to rest and ICE is, well to ice.
Ice and ice packs should never be put directly onto the bare skin as this can cause ice burn, where the water in your cells can freeze.

Simply place a towel or tea towel between your skin and the compression to avoid this.
To get the best out of cold therapy, you should start your treatment as soon as possible, preferably within 24 – 48 hours and each session should last for roughly 20 minutes with a 2 – 4 hours break between each session.

Different types of Cold Therapy
Ice cubes wrapped in cloth (cold compress)
Frozen vegetable (peas) – (cold compress)
Ice compression pack – a pack you can buy filled with liquid specific for cold therapy.
Coldwater bath.
Ice roller – by freezing a small bottle of water to treat the underfoot.

Cold therapy is often used in runners and other sporting activities to help reduce Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage (EIMD) after a tough or hard run or session to help prevent DOMS ( Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness)

Heat Therapy
What does heat therapy do and what can it treat?

Unlike cold therapy, heat therapy prompts blood flow to the inflamed area which pumps the sore muscles full of much-needed oxygen to promote faster recovery.
When you apply heat to inflamed and sore muscles and joints it opens up the blood vessels so the blood can circulate more freely and helps to flush out built-up lactic acid that many runners suffer from.

Most people will opt for heat therapy over cold therapy to treat sore joints and severe muscle pain, as not only is heat therapy better than cold therapy for muscle aches and pains but it is thought that its placebo effect is greater than cold therapies due to its warmth.
Heat therapy and packs can be done and or used for up to 3 times a day, with a 20-minute session each time.

Different types of heat therapy
There are different ways to safely carry out heat therapy and treatments are easy to do.
A warm to a hot bath, keeping the temperature no hotter than body temperature (no hotter than 37 Degrees Celsius), you can add some epsom salts to your warm bath to help ease stiffness of the joints and help soothe and relax tired achy muscles.
Hot water bottle – a hot water bottle is great to target specific areas, such as the back, glutes and abdominal areas – NEVER put hot a water bottle on bare skin as this will burn.
Stick on heat patches – these can come in different sizes ready to treat smaller and harder to reach areas (always reach sellers instructions)
Heat lamps – many sports therapists use an Infrared lamp to treat and promote the muscles to heel. Don’t be mistaken for UV lamps that damage the skin cells – An Infrared heat lamp regenerates cells, helps blood circulate, and pumps oxygen-rich blood into the deep tissues helping and promoting a more speedy recovery as well as some relief from sore and achy muscles and joints.

Heat therapy can be used by runners and other sportsmen to treat DOMS – (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) which can occur anything from 24 – 48 hours after vigorous exercise.

So, if after a hard running or training session you don’t fancy taking the plunge into a cold bath of water then a soak in a warm bath can be just as beneficial.

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  1. I think it depends on what the ache is……………………. as I sit here watching the rugby with a bag of peas on my leg. My go to veg that for icing btw, as I’m a strong believer that the peas can get in all the nooks and crannies 🙂