If you’ve ever watched a contact sport at the game or on television you’ve no doubt seen an injured player come off the playing surface for treatment, and before too long you’ll see them sitting on a bench wrapped in a large bundle of ice.

But you’ve probably also encountered the opposite situation, where the advice has been to ‘put a heat pack on it’.

So which approach is right?

In simple terms – both. In fact, sometimes healthcare professionals recommend alternating between the two.1 But as a general rule, heat and cold tend to be used in quite different scenarios.

Cold therapy (for example, using icepacks) is useful when there is inflammation, typically after an injury or sprain, and especially within the first 48 hours. It helps reduce inflammation and therefore pain.

Heat, on the other hand, is best used after the inflammation has subsided after an injury, or to relieve muscle tension and spasm. Importantly, heat should not be applied to a ‘fresh injury’, an open wound, or if infection is present.2

Applying heat to muscles and soft tissue yields a number of benefits:

  • Heat increases blood flow to the area, which also brings nutrients and oxygen3
  • It accelerates healing2
  • It increases the activity of collagenase,2 an enzyme that breaks down collagen in damaged tissues within the skin and helps the body generate new healthy tissue.4 (Collagen found in body tissues such as skin, tendons, muscles, and bone)

How do you apply heat therapy?

There are a number of ways to apply heat to the body, but it’s important to follow some safety precautions. For example, don’t apply a hot water bottle directly to the skin – wrap it in a cloth towel or specially designed cover.

In addition, the type of heat therapy can be tailored to the issue you’re having. For example, choose a small source of heat for small areas of pain, such as a stiff muscle or joint. If the pain or stiffness is more widespread pain try using a larger heat sources such as a steamed towel, large heating pad, or heat wraps. But if your whole body is in need of some help, try a hot bath or sauna.5

Heat pads are a convenient way to apply heat therapy. They slowly heat up and start working in about 10 minutes. They are also thin and discreet, and unlike bulky wheat bags, or hot water bottles, retain their heat for longer6.

Adhesive heat pads such as Hotteeze are designed to be positioned on the outside of under garments where heat is required. The gentle adhesive will help keep them in position. You can check out the range of pads here.

Always read the label and follow the directions for use. Do not stick directly on skin.

Sources:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/29108#heat_therapy
  2. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Thermotherapy
  3. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/MediaLibraries/URMCMedia/noyes/migrated-media/PT-Blog-April_1.pdf
  4. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/d01315a1
  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-pain/treating-pain-with-heat-and-cold
  6. https://www.physioadvisor.com.au/shop/hot-cold-therapy/hotteeze-self-adhesive-heat-pads-packet-10-pads/