Using heat and cold for pain
When you hurt from a minor strain or sprain to a muscle or tendon, it’s difficult to think about anything other than your pain. You want relief and you want it fast. Cold, heat or a combination of the two may help. Try these approaches to using these drug-free pain relief options:
- Applying ice to a sore back, swollen knee or sprained ankle can numb the pain and may reduce some of the inflammation. Try wrapping an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a cloth and applying it to the painful area. Do this for the first day or two after your injury, every two to four hours. Don’t keep the cold wrap on the painful area for more than 20 minutes at a time.
- Heat helps reduce pain by relaxing and loosening tense muscles, and it promotes blood and nutrients to speed healing. Use a heating pad or a moist towel warmed in the microwave and apply it to the painful area. Or you can take a warm bath or shower. Apply heat for up to 20 minutes three times a day. If you use a heating pad, never sleep with it.
- Heat and cold. If you use both ice and heat, apply heat for 15 to 20 minutes, then a few hours later use ice for 15 to 20 minutes. Do this at spaced intervals throughout the day. By rotating between each temperature therapy, you’re reducing inflammation and loosening muscles simultaneously, increasing your chances of pain relief.
Some people find that ice works best for their pain. Others prefer heat or a combination of heat and ice. You may need to experiment to determine which is most effective for you.
HOT OFF THE PRESS! This post is excerpted from Back and Neck Health, a new book from Mayo Clinic Press, available February 2021 wherever books are sold.