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Hot or Cold Applications?



When it comes to treating sore muscle and joints, it can be confusing to whether to use hot or cold therapies, and when. Let’s take a look at what each method does separately, and then we can determine which method would best benefit you during a massage.

Cold application has the following effects:
1. Quick applications stimulate.
2. Prolonged applications depress metabolic activity.
3. Reduces nerve sensitivity.
4. Muscular and joint stiffness.
5. Decreases circulation and muscle spasms, thus decreasing metabolism.
6. Numbing, anesthetic, and analgesic effect.

Heat application has the following effects:
1. Local application causes vasodilation (an increase in the caliber of blood vessels).
2. Increases circulation that can cause a reddening of the skin.
3. Increased metabolism, by as much as double for heat pressed on a local area or the entire body by exercise or hot baths.
4. Relaxed musculature, which can benefit the therapist by the muscles being easier to knead and roll.
5. Slight analgesia (absence of sensibility to pain).
6. Leukocyte migration to the area. The leukocytes moves to site of injury/inflamed area and engulf foreign particles like bacteria and destroys them.

So when and how should you use these applications? Cold therapy is standard practice for an acute soft tissue injury in the first 48 hours. So if you just pulled a muscle, a hard hit to an area of the body or after some intense weight training, Rest Ice Compression and Elevation of the affected area is recommended. An ice pack on the acute area for about 30 minutes(no longer than 1 hour) should be applied, then off for two hours. This process should be repeated for up to 72 hours, depending on the severity of the injury. Massage should not be performed unless it is compression massage, which is steady medium pressure applied to the muscle. Massage with light pressure can be used, however needed blood flow might go to the recently massaged skin instead of the injured muscle.

Chronic (recurring or long lasting injuries) is best treated with heat. At West Side Massage Therapy, we use moist hot towels as it conducts heat more effectively, as well as hot stones with oil for more precise work. After heat is applied, the muscles are readily prepared for any massage technique. 115 degrees Fahrenheit is varied up or down depending on the sensitivity of the client to achieve the best results. Applications of 5-20 minutes is ideal (the bigger and deeper the area requires longer times).

Alternating between cold and hot is also beneficial. Three minutes of cold and five minutes of hot repeated for an hour or more is good for chronic injuries.

At West Side Massage Therapy, the use of hot towels, cold packs, and analgesic ointments are considered gratuitous for our clients, and will be used specifically to the client’s needs.



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