Heat and cold: How to properly use them

Heat and cold are commonly used remedies for various injuries and ailments. The treatment involving heat and cold can be quite effective and readily available. It might be tricky though especially knowing which scenarios require heat and those that need cold. In some cases, a single treatment requires both.

Generally, utilize cold for acute pain or injuries along with swelling and inflammation. As for heat, it is used for muscle stiffness and pain.

Close look on heat therapy

Heat works by improving the blood flow and circulation to a specific area due to the increased temperature.

An increase in the temperature can alleviate the discomfort and improve the flexibility of the muscles. It can also help relax and soothe the muscles and promote healing of the damaged tissues.

Types of heat therapy


Minimal stiffness or tension can be relieved with only 15-20 minutes of heat application.

  • Dry heat – includes sources such as dry heating packs, heating pads and even saunas.
  • Moist heat – include sources such as moist heating packs, hot baths and steamed towels

When heat therapy is applied, you can decide whether to use local, regional or entire body treatment.

  • Local therapy is ideal for small areas of pain such as stiff muscles
  • Regional is ideal for widespread stiffness or pain by using a large heating pad, steamed towel or heat wraps
  • Full or entire body treatment include saunas or a hot bath

Heat therapy is highly beneficial if used for a good amount of time. Minimal stiffness or tension can be relieved with only 15-20 minutes of heat application. Moderate to intense pain can greatly benefit from a longer session of heat such as a warm bath that lasts between 30 minutes up to 2 hours.

Close look on cold therapy

Cold therapy works by limiting the blood flow to a specific area which lowers the inflammation and swelling responsible for the pain.

What are the types?

As home treatment, apply an ice pack on the affected region that is wrapped with a towel or cloth. Apply cold right after an injury.

Cold should be used for short periods of time at several times throughout the day. The application is usually 10-15 minutes at a time. It should not last longer to prevent damage to the tissue, nerve and skin. Additionally, elevate or raise the affected area to achieve the best results.

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on heat and cold application is for learning purposes only. Learn how to properly use heat and cold by taking a standard first aid course with Vancouver First Aid.


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