It’s a familiar part of getting older: increasing aches and pains and decreasing stamina. But we do know that with regular exercise and attention to diet, we can stay healthy and mobile for longer. However, it’s still easier for us to overdo it as we age, and when that happens it’s important to know which is better to soothe those aches and pains. Here is our breakdown of heat vs. cold therapy.
It’s a longstanding debate, and it turns out there’s some science involved. As a general rule, if you are injured in some way – a wound, a bruise – then ice is best. However, if it’s your muscles which are strained, then heat is going to be the better option. The reason this is sometimes confusing is that there are particular types of surgeries, such as knee surgeries, where both ice and heat may be recommended, as this is an injury that can also inflame the muscles.
Ice is great for easing both inflammation and the sharp pain that often results from it, as it numbs the pain. Heat, on the other hand, is good for relieving muscle spasms and back and neck pain, as well as chronic pain and pain related to stress. This is because heat loosens stiff joints and relaxes muscles.
Whether you use hot or cold packs or compresses, be sure that you put something between the source of heat/cold and your skin. Heat/cold packs such as gel packs that are frozen or microwaved, or a bag of frozen vegetables, should be wrapped in a thin towel or pillowcase before applying to your skin. Compresses made from cloths soaked in hot or cold water can also provide some relief. For best results, apply heat or cold to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time two or three times a day.
If your skin breaks out in blisters, or you develop a rash or hives, discontinue use and contact your physician.