Choosing Heat or Cold for Pain

Sometimes when you are facing pain, whether from an injury or a flare-up, it can be hard to decide if you should be using heat or cold for that ache. I’ve found myself messaging friends “Is heat best for ____ or should I try ice?” When you deal with a pain condition such as fibromyalgia, you just lose track of what seems like an easy decision.

Here are some tips for deciding if heat or cold was the best option for your current situation.

Heat or cold for pain

Using Heat for Pain

  • Heat is best for chronic issues or stiffness, especially in injuries that have continued longer than 48 hours.

Why use heat? Heat allows circulation to increase in the area, promoting blood flow and loosening tightness

Moist heat is the best when it comes to using heat for pain. You easily can find a moist heating pad at a regular store or you can use a hot water bottle, towel soaked in water and heated in microwave, or for something such as a fibromyalgia flare-up, you can soak in a hot bath, allowing the bathroom to fill with steam. Always take appropriate measures to protect yourself from burns by placing a towel or cloth between the heat and your skin. Never sleep with a heating pad on your body!


Using Cold for Pain

  • When talking to my chiropractor, they recommended using cold immediately following an injury can help reduce swelling and inflammation.

Why use cold? Cold provides a numbing effect and shrinks blood vessels which help eliminate swelling and inflammation to the area. 

There are a variety of ways to use appropriate cold for the area of your body that hurts. From flexible cold compresses to the often discussed bag of peas, there are many ways to use cold when you are in pain. Just as when using heat, take appropriate precautions to protect your skin. Frostbite definitely won’t help alleviate the pain you are dealing with!

As with dealing with many things, sometimes we find our own personal preference when it comes helping alleviate pain. When I am dealing with a migraine headache, I find myself trying both heat and cold.

A friend once told me to stick your feet in water as hot as you can tolerate while applying ice to the back of your neck when fighting a migraine. While I’ve used this technique on several occasions, it can be hit or miss, just like when taking migraine medication-you need to do so at the first sign and not try “toughing it out”.

What do you find works best in alleviating pain?

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