Hot or Cold? How to Apply Heat after an Injury

Should You Apply Hot or Cold After an Injury?

It has come to my attention that many of you still don’t know how best to apply heat or cold after an injury, and, this just won’t do! It’s imperative that you understand how this simple first-aid technique should be used. It’s as useful as knowing how to put on a plaster.

When To Use Cold After an Injury

Acute injury + swelling and/or bruising = COLD

Cold treatments are almost always used on recent (acute) injuries where swelling and/or bruising is present. And it’s crucial that if you have an injury with these symptoms that you apply cold as soon as possible. Not a few hours later or the next day, and not just once or twice. Ideally, cold should be applied for 10 minutes of every waking hour of every day for 3-4 days, or until the swelling has stopped or started to go down. If you think this is all too much of a pain in your genitals, then be prepared for a significant increase in healing time. It’s also important to note that if after that period you start exercising again and the swelling returns, then you’ll have to begin the whole process again. So, the best advice is not to exercise on the affected area at all.

What is swelling anyway?

For the most part, the swelling is bleeding. Whether the injury was from an impact or something was bent in the wrong direction, there’ll probably be some damage to blood vessels in that area. The damaged vessels bleed into the surrounding tissues, and the area swells up.

You said 10 mins, why?

If you leave a cold pack on for too long, your body will respond to the cooling of that area by increasing blood flow. Now, as I mentioned, swelling is bleeding, and thus we don’t want any further increase in blood flow at this time. Well, not yet anyway.

What do I use?

It has to be actual cold. It can’t be a muscle rub or anything like that. You can use ice wrapped in a tea towel or the gel ice pack specifically for the job that you hopefully purchased right after reading this article. Always make sure there’s a barrier between the ice and your skin.

Anything else I should know?

Why, yes there is. Compress the area by applying a bandage and elevate the area wherever possible. Raising the injured area above the level of your heart is preferable.

Is that it?

Nope. If you’re having to apply the methods above, write off any exercise involving that area for the next couple of weeks. The more you re-injure the area, the longer your recovery process will be.

One more thing.

There’s much debate among professionals as to whether we should anti-inflammatory drugs with these kinds of injuries. The general consensus that I keep stumbling upon is not to use them as they interfere with our natural process of healing.

When To Apply Heat After an Injury

Chronic injury + pain/inflammation – swelling = HEAT

Heat works best with long term (chronic) injuries. Aches and pains in your joints and tendinitis, that sort of thing. Basically, anything that needs increased circulation. Back spasms usually respond better to heat than cold.

How does heat work?

Be it rock, metal or cheese, heat will soften most things, and it’s no different when it comes to your body. Muscles, tendons and ligaments are all softened by heat. It also dilates (opens) your blood vessels, and in the event of chronic injuries, more blood usually equals faster healing. Or, a least some reduction in pain.

What do I need?

A quick search on Amazon will find you a vast array of heat packs to choose from, and some can be used for both hot or cold. A hot water bottle is also a convenient option. Hot baths are a practical option or large areas like your legs or back.

10 minutes again?

Nope. As long as you like within reason.

What about compression and elevation?

Compression can be useful if the affected area is weak and needs support. Elevation is unnecessary for this type of injury.

What about Deep Heat or Tiger Balm?

If you feel they help, by all means, use them. Although they may give the sensation of hot or cold, there is no actual heating or cooling taking place.

Right, there you go. You are now equipped to treat acute and chronic minor injuries effectively. As with all injuries, if you’re unsure, seek the advice of a medical professional.