Benefits of Hot and Cold Therapy

Benefits of Hot and Cold Therapy

Whether it’s an ache, sprain, or strain, it’s tempting to try something quick and easy to heal a muscle injury. Fortunately, cold and heat therapy can help with muscle aches and pains. But does one option work better than the other? Does it depend on the type of injury? Let's look at the benefits of cold and heat therapy to find out.


Because it lowers nerve activity in a targeted area, cold therapy may also reduce your sensitivity to pain. This makes it a useful treatment option for acute injuries –– or those that occur suddenly and have a known cause –– like swollen joints and tendons.  Research suggests that cold therapy is most effective in the first hours after an acute injury. That explains why people apply ice after accidents like slamming a finger in a door or exercise-induced injuries like a pulled muscle. But if pain and swelling don’t improve after a few days, stop using ice and talk to your healthcare provider.

Heat therapy expands blood vessels to increase blood flow to an affected area. The higher temperatures –– which should be warm, not hot –– can relieve muscle pain, soothe tight muscles, and improve range of motion. Like ice therapy, you can apply heat therapy in numerous ways, including: 

  • Heating pads or packs 
  • Sandsoxx
  • Warm towels 
  • Saunas
  • Hot tubs or baths 

While saunas and hot baths provide a whole-body treatment, applications like heating pads and warm compresses target specific areas of the body. If your injury is chronic, increased blood flow to the injury site may be helpful. Sometimes referred to as overuse injuries, chronic injuries usually develop gradually and last a long time. For example, heat can help treat lower back pain, especially when combined with exercise and range of motion therapy.