April 15, 2016

Robyn Adams PT, ATC
Logan Media Services

No matter the injury, hot and cold therapies help athletic trainers provide a high level of care.

There are many different approaches to injury management….but the tried and true approach of hot and cold therapy have been shown to have excellent outcomes. 

Cold therapies are used immediately following an injury and during the early acute stages of inflammation.  Controlling pain and swelling are the desired goals of utilizing cold therapy – allowing the body to enter the repair stage of healing.  Care must be taken when applying cold therapy – there is a potential to freeze a superficial nerve, expose an athlete to frostbite, or cause them to develop allergic skin reactions.  Examples include ice bags, ice massage, cold whirlpool, and cold packs.

Hot therapies are used to increase circulation to the injured area, which provides an environment for the body to repair itself.  Typically, hot therapies are applied when the acute inflammatory period following an injury has passed or in treating chronic conditions.  There are many types of modalities for hot therapy – choosing the mode of delivery usually depends on the area of injury, tissue depth desired for treatment, and whether active motion is also incorporated.  Samples of heath therapy include warm whirlpool, moist heat packs, ultrasound, or paraffin bath. 

Combining hot and cold therapies – known as “Contrast” therapy – can stimulate circulation and the lymphatic system to reduce swelling.  Thus, there are many forms of hot and cold therapies to provide care to the injured athlete….understanding the type of injury, timing of the injury, and goal of the therapy will assist in choosing the most appropriate temperature.