Hot Compress Or Cold Compress?


Since your childhood you have heard of applying hot compress in relieving pain. But you have also heard of applying cold compress using ice in relieving pain. Yes, both of them has some work to do. But not at once. They are appropriate at different times. So, today in this blog, I will let you know when to apply what!

Lets give a big example which will make this article for informative yet simple.

A child while playing or running hit a hard chair and got a swelling. Very common incident. Now here comes the point when we have to decide the type of compress whether it should be hot or cold. 

First of all, we have to know what happens after that trauma to the child and then we can well understand what should be chosen to give —- Hot or Cold

After the child hit the chair, he has got swelling. Because, when a portion of body got hit so hard, in that part actually some tissues get damaged and immediately the body reacts with blood vessel dilatation, swelling, more flow of blood, eventually leading to increased temperature. All these happens or body does in order to repair that portion of tissues which got damaged. After this happens, the thing that comes in your mind, to give compress. Now the question arises — Hot or Cold. The pain that first arise (just after getting hurt) is due to chemicals that mediate pain. This pain is associated with vessel dilatation, swelling, fluid oozing inside and most importantly, increase of temperature at that site. Actually, vessel dilatation leads to more flow of blood and eventually leading to increase of temperature at that site. So, its a very logical thing that not to apply something which will aggravate the above listed phenomena. At this very moment, we will not apply anything which will increase temperature at that site. So, NO HOT COMPRESS. Just after hit, we should apply COLD COMPRESS to suck out the heat from that site. Additionally, cold compress can make the are a little numb, relieving the pain. But while giving cold compress, we should remember some points. It can be given by Ice towel or Ice packs. It should not be too cold. Do not apply the cold compress for more than 20 minutes. Remember, this cold compress only be given within 48 hours after the trauma.

So, how to do it. Let go through the procedures:

Ice towel

  1. Dampen a towel with cold water.
  2. Fold it and place it in a plastic, sealable bag.
  3. Place the bag in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from freezer and place it on the affected area.

Ice pack or cold compress

  1. Put ice in a plastic, sealable bag.
  2. Fill partially with water.
  3. Seal the bag, squeezing the air out of it.
  4. Wrap the bag in a damp towel and put it on the affected area.


Now, for the time being, the child is relieved from pain. But it will not heal by now. When the injury surpasses 48 hours, it is called as chronic pain.  So, in this case, no more vessel dilatation is there. No increased temperature is there. But remember one thing –  To repair the tissues further, nutrition is needed. So, flow of blood should be maintained. Then there will be replacement of new tissues and hence, the injured site will be repaired. Thus, there is a need of increasing the temperature at this point of time to ensure good flow of blood. This is very simple logic now. You should apply HOT COMPRESS.

Heat increases circulation and raises skin temperature. For these reasons, it should not be applied to acute injuries, or injuries that show signs of inflammation. Heat is great for sore muscles and joint pain, which are typical of chronic injuries.

So, What Applying Heat does to your body?

  • Brings more blood to the area where it is applied.
  • Reduces joint stiffness and muscle spasm, which makes it useful when muscles are tight.
  • Should NOT be used for the first 48 hours after an injury.
  • Should NOT be applied for more than 20 minutes continuously.

Heat can be applied by two ways:

1. Warm towel

a. Dampen a towel with warm (not scalding) water.

  b. Put on the affected area to ease muscle spasm.

2. Heating pad

Be sure to protect any type of heating pad device from coming in direct contact with the skin. Precautions should be taken to avoid burns, especially if you have nerve damage, such as from diabetes or other health problems. 





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