Before pain-killers (unfortunately) became our go-to for pain relief, men (and women) have always looked into natural means. These are affordable, efficient, and with minimal side-effects (if you use it right). And as a regulator of body functions, temperature can be manipulated to treat pain. With that said, cryotherapy (cold therapy) and thermotherapy (heat therapy) are polar opposites, and misuse can be rather serious. Here’s a guide:
Let’s dive into it!
Cryotherapy sounds really complicated, but you’ve probably seen or used it several times. In layman terms, cryotherapy is icing – a quick and cost-efficient method to soothe inflammations, such as when you tore a tendon or sprained a joint.
Why it is important
Research has shown that icing hardly affects recovery, and inflammation can be agonising, troublesome even, if prolonged. For instance, an inflamed joint can exert excessive pressure on the bone, causing it to weaken over time. Hence, while inflammation is a normal biological response, it can get out of hand, especially when the pain escapes threshold level.
You should never let your skin come into direct contact with something frozen – this is a major blow to your nerves and tissues, plausibly causing permanent damage. Wrapping ice cubes a few times in a towel will do; you can also choose to submerge the injured region in an ice bath (test the temperature first). Limit application time within 20 minutes, and if required, wait for 20 minutes before repeating it.
It is not advisable to apply cryotherapy to trigger points, such as the lower back, because ice on un-inflamed skin causes muscles to tense up. This aggravates chronic pain in sensitive parts of your body.
The influences of heat therapy are very much trivialised as compared to its cousin. Thermotherapy is just as pervasive in our lives, taking in the forms of heat packs, hot baths, sauna sessions etc.
What is often mistaken as heat therapy, however, are medicated plasters/patches which you might use regularly – the “spicy” sensation they create isn’t due to a noticeable increase in skin temperature, but a reaction that serves to distract you from the prevailing pain. The smell of these ointments and the sticky residue left after application make heat therapy an excellent alternative.
How it works
Thermotherapy induces a psychological and physical effect; don’t you feel like you’re being embraced when you put on a heat patch? The warmth disperses over your body, not just across the targeted area, because thermotherapy stimulates overall blood circulation. Our bodies are conditioned to counter changes in our surroundings in order to prevent damage. This means that when part of our skin feels hotter, blood flow increases to carry the heat away and re-establish equilibrium. With improved circulation, tense muscles can receive more oxygen and relax.
You might be wondering: how does a heat patch work when muscle aches are not felt on the skin surface, but rooted deep within? That’s because heat can penetrate tissues; studies have found that thermotherapy can raise your body temperature by 1 – 2 degree celsius at a few centimetres of depth, making thermotherapy ideal for targeting trigger points, such as your neck and lower back – these are sensitive spots where you often feel knots in – as well as delayed-onset muscle soreness, which can hit you anytime between 24 – 28 hours after a rigorous workout. On the other hand, medicated ointments and oils which achieve their purpose by causing mild irritation on your skin are unable to target tissues beneath the surface. They function as a distraction, and does not in actuality take away the pain.
How hot is too hot?
Of course, the intensity of heat matters. The configuration of heat patches is challenging in this aspect; the temperature has to be well-adjusted, such that the patch does not scald, but has a sufficiently deep reach. pslove patches heat up to different degrees for various parts of the body; for example, MenstruHeat is much hotter than KneeHeat, NeckHeat or BackHeat, and superficial burns may occur if worn on other parts of the body, or for an extended duration.
While thermotherapy can be incredibly effective in resolving muscle cramps and soreness, injuries involving inflammation and infections should not be addressed with heat therapy. In those cases, cryotherapy should be used instead. Thermotherapy is generally intended for removing chronic pain in trigger points, whereas cold therapy is more for injuries and swollen parts.
The bottom line is, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to the application for both. Heed professional advice, but do what feels best for you. Everyone’s physical condition and preferences vary.