When is Heat Better than Cold Therapy or icing? Look at the Climate for Your Answer.


Sometimes it’s hard for people to decide between hot or cold therapy. Pain isn’t exactly a great indicator. You could go either way on deciding. Perhaps, you could experiment a little bit and see what feels better. Flip a coin to start either a hot pack or cold pack. The application of temperature therapy is more of an art form than it is scientific. But, it is science that recognizes the benefits for us.

I had knee pain that lasted for about 3 years that I couldn’t seem to cure with either hot or cold therapy. It was a terrible pain that made walking up steps difficult at times. Eventually, the pain went away, and I can’t figure out how exactly. Even though I used hot and cold packs, they only provided temporary relief. I can’t remember when the pain really stopped either. It seemed like it went away over the winter, but I’m not sure.

Icing the knee in the summer felt good for little periods of time. It almost felt like the summer heat made the knee pain even worse. But there was no way I could ice it in the winter time. My whole body wanted to keep warm and I had to think about the bigger picture of keeping warm in general. Just because icing my knee seemed like the right thing to do, it wasn’t.

The climate seems to determine what the best course of action is for heat/cold therapy. Because we all have to strive for temperature balance in some way, not just using a heat pack or ice pack is sufficient. We also have to measure the temperature of the air as well. Icing body parts in cold weather goes against logic, just like warming body parts in hot weather.

There really is substantial relief with using opposing temperatures to the climate. For example, my mom, aged 63, had a headache in the winter time. She told me to fill a bag of snow so that she could put it on her head. I told her that her pain is more blood stagnation and that heat would do a better job. She took my advice and used her electric blanket on her head to find satisfactory relief.

If she told me that she had a headache in the summer time, I don’t think I would have advised her to use heat. Adding extra heat stress to an already hot day can be disastrous. I would be more inclined to advise her to use ice therapy instead.

What if the outside temperature is a stable and comfortable 72 degrees and your joint or muscle hurts? That’s a little more difficult to determine. I would suggest setting the hot or cold pack aside and trying magnet therapy first. Then flip a coin to decide on the hot or cold pack. Assuming the temperature is comfortable you could look at the type of pain you have then.

Joint pains can take ice and muscle pains can take heat generally. But be wary of how the rest of your body is responding to the temperature therapy as well. Injuries are usually not isolated to the sight of pains your whole body is working in conjunction to try and repair the damage.

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