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Pain, wounds… Should we use hot or cold to relieve them?

Pain, wounds… Should we use hot or cold to relieve them? Thermotherapy has been used for a long time to stop headaches, tendinitis, sprains and lumbago . But we often make mistakes because many misconceptions persist about the virtues of cold and heat.

It is not easy, when you are in pain, to know whether to apply cold or heat to soothe the pain. The analgesic effect of the hot water bottle and the ice pack has been proven many times… Provided you make the right choice at the right time!

To put an end to a headache, for example, both are largely proven. It all depends on the origin of the problem. If it is a tension headache, a diffuse headache caused by an overload of stress or a prolonged bad position, rather at the end of the day, heat – administered on the neck and the nape of the neck – is indicated. On the other hand, when faced with a real migraine, a cryotherapy headband placed on the temples and forehead is a better option.

In other words:cold is no more effective than heat, or vice versa:there is a solution for each pain.

Hot:ideal for relaxing muscles

Applied locally or in the form of a bath, the heat relaxes paralyzed muscles and improves the mobility of blocked joints. By dilating blood vessels, it promotes the oxygenation of muscle fibers and boosts the elimination of toxins, such as lactic acid resulting from intense muscular effort. Its benefits are therefore indisputable for minimizing cramps and aches, but also for reducing lumbago or torticollis. And since it also decreases the intensity of uterine contractions, heat also suppresses menstrual pain.

In what form should I use it?

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  • For relief from a stress headache, opt for a cervical collar or a small bolster filled with microwaved flaxseed. Alternatively, you can heat your neck with a hair dryer.

  • To dissipate a localized muscle contracture, self-heating patches work wonders. There are also heating belts that perfectly fit the lower back to combat low back pain.

  • In case of menstrual pain, a hot water bottle or a pillow of hot cherry stones is enough.

  • On a painful joint, generated by an attack of osteoarthritis for example, a hot water bottle or a heated orthosis reduces joint stiffness. But be careful, do not use heat if the joint is inflamed:you could rekindle the pain and still lose mobility, which is the opposite effect to that expected.

Cold:a must against inflammation

The principle of thermal shock by cold is commonly used by top athletes to continue competition despite an injury. But everyone can benefit from its benefits.

Suddenly dropping the temperature of a part of the body short-circuits the transmission of the painful message to the brain, which prevents the sensation of pain. The cold also stimulates the production of molecules that fight inflammation and tissue swelling, hence its effectiveness in fighting edema.

This is why some surgeons use it after a maxillofacial surgery operation or a knee prosthesis, for example. In everyday life, it is lifesaving in case of tendinitis, strain, muscle strain, contusion, but also for all people suffering from an inflammatory disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthritis or multiple sclerosis. It also gives good results in case of fibromyalgia.

In what form should I use it?

  • To curb a migraine, opt for a gel headband kept in the fridge. Leave on for 35 to 45 minutes on the temples and forehead.

  • In case of strain or tendonitis, a cold effect bomb, an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas held at the level of the sore muscle or tendon relieves the pain. Ice should never be in direct contact with the skin:wrap it in a damp cloth. The application should last at least 10 minutes. For a mild sprain, let the cold act for at least half an hour to limit bleeding and tame the pain.

  • To reduce the pain caused by an inflammatory disease, cold must be applied more extensively. The best is to bet on whole body cryotherapy. As its effect is cumulative, it is preferable to carry out several sessions fairly close together (about three per week) for at least two weeks, to be repeated if necessary.
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