The therapeutic application of heat and cold — known respectively as thermotherapy and cryotherapy — is a well-known, effective tool, and one of the simplest forms of recovery. School nurses, professional coaches, parents, physical therapists — all have been known to use heat and ice as a means to relieve pain, reduce stiffness, or expedite recovery. Perhaps you’ve used a heating pad on a sore back? Or maybe you’ve held one of those unnaturally blue gel ice packs on a twisted ankle?
These days, most professional physical therapists offices have moved beyond using ice to achieve the cold element. At MOTUS Specialists Physical Therapy Orange County, we use KELVI for both the hot and the cold therapy. It’s a completely electronic and digital technology for thermotherapy and cryotherapy. There is no need to find ice and water and making sure it stays cold. The KELVI device wraps snugly around whatever area of the body needs treatment, and its temperatures are easy to adjust so we can give precise hot and cold therapy to each individual. Each wrap has tons of individual thermoregulators that monitor the temperature of the wrap and the temperature of your ski. This way you never get burned or get frostbite!
Strained muscles and stiff joints can be painful and limiting. Luckily, something as simple as hot and cold temperatures can offer great relief from associated pains, and even help you recover more quickly.
How Does it Work?
When you apply heat to the surface of the body, it causes the blood vessels in that area to expand. Expanded blood vessels means a greater blood flow, which increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients delivered to that area. Heat applied to the body encourages the muscles to relax, so it’s a great tool for addressing chronic stiffness, spasms, or pain. Because thermotherapy increases range of motion and warms up the muscles, it can be used to enhance other forms of physical therapy treatment or exercise. Unsurprisingly, cold therapy causes the opposite effect on the blood vessels as its hot counterpart. When you hold a hold pack to an injured part of the body, the low temperature creates vasoconstriction, which is when the blood vessels narrow. This effectively reduces the circulation in the treated area, which will reduce inflammation. Bringing down inflammation helps reduce pain in an injury, and can also help muscles recover more quickly after a workout. Cold therapy has been known as a non-invasive tool for managing pain for decades. In 1989, a study applied cold therapy to patients who were having ACL reconstruction. The study found that those patients receiving cold therapy were able to get up and move around sooner, and had an easier time performing their post-surgery range of motion exercises.1 The process of alternating between hot and cold therapy is known as contrast therapy. Contrast therapy creates a pumping in the lymph system, as the heat relaxes and the cold contracts. This helps the lymph fluid flow throughout the body for better healing and, again, lower inflammation. he same type of pumping is also applied to the muscles, which go back and forth as the temperature is changed. That pumping can have a similar effect to that of gentle aerobic activity, and is a helpful way to provide strengthening to patients who are unable to work out.
What are the Benefits?
Knowing that something as simple as a controlled temperature can control blood flow allows us to offer a number of benefits to our clients. As we mentioned before, both hot and cold therapy can reduce pain, whether it’s by the cold temperature bringing down swelling, or the warm temperature allowing a muscle to relax.
Hot and cold therapy also increases range of motion. In 2016, a study on the effectiveness of alternating hot and cold compresses on the heel showed that patients who received alternating compresses had greatly improved foot functionality.2
The improved circulation created by hot therapy can help with muscle strains. Together, hot and cold therapy reduce post-workout muscle soreness and speed up the post-workout recovery
Is Hot and Cold Therapy Right For Me?
Because of contrast therapy’s ability to increase the flow of lymph fluid, this recovery tool can be helpful to anyone who is looking to increase their overall health.
Most commonly hot and cold therapy is used with those who are recovering from an injury or managing chronic or acute pain. This therapy makes no physical demands on the recipient, so it’s great for anyone who is currently limited in their strength and ability.
Common Injuries & Conditions Treated
Hot and cold therapy commonly treats musculoskeletal injuries, like ligament sprains, muscle strains, and tendonitis. It can be effective at treating repetitive injuries, like tennis elbow, shin splints, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
1. B.T. Cohn et al – The effects of cold therapy in the postoperative management of pain in patients undergoing anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction
2. Dr. Dhananjay Arankalle MPH et al – Alternate hot and cold application in the management of heel pain: A pilot study