In order to know when to apply hot or cold to an injury or area of pain, first you have to know what effects they have:
Cold therapy, also known as, cryotherapy has many effects on the body, such as, restricts blood, reduces inflammation, numbs nerve irritation, which can lead to pain relief, improve antioxidant levels in the blood and stimulate physiological hormonal responses like, release of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and endorphins to the body.
Heat therapy, also known as thermotherapy, increases blood flow and flexibility to soft tissue. It also reduces pain caused by tension or stiffness, calms muscles spasms and accelerates the healing process.
Together, cold and hot treatments, are known as contrast therapy. Where it begins with heat and then cold and repeats a few more times.
So do you use hot or cold or both?
Use heat if your feeling stiff or overworked an area. You can do that in many ways, such as heating pad or soak in a hot bath. If none of those available, grab a small towel, completely wet it, then squeeze out water leaving it still somewhat soaked. Fold it and roll it up and microwave for 10-15 seconds. When removing be careful as it will be hot, unroll it, leaving it folded, let it cool for a minute and apply to area (Please make sure you can take the heat in your hand before you apply it). Heat should be used no more than 30 minutes per area.
Use cold if you just injured yourself, such as, banged your elbow or knee, fingers or toe jams into something, fall or trip, dislocation, basically anything that has been impacted in someway shape or form. Also, any inflammation you may be experiencing from any new or old injury to overuse. You can submerge the injured area into cold water with ice or use an ice pack. As well as using a towel soaked in ice cold water. Ice should only be used for no more than 20 minutes per area.
If you decide to do contrast therapy, use heat and then cold with at least 15 minutes between. Never use either longer than given times as it can have adverse effects, you may harm yourself and you won’t reap their benefits.
Be safe and self care is necessary!