When experiencing pain and swelling within the injured tissues and the surrounding region, the first step in conservative treatment protocol would be to focus on use of a high quality cold compression wrap to numb the pain and modulate the inflammation. A combination of cold therapy AND compression is the key - they work best in conjunction with each other.
Typically, the focus of applying cold therapy occurs in these scenarios:
1. Early in the injury cycle (first 24 to 72 hours). Applying cold therapy to a fresh injury will not only reduce the pain factor, it will help prevent an excess accumulation of fluid at the injury site - thereby limiting the amount of swelling. This in turns also helps to modulate further damage to tissue by slowing the metabolic response of the body.
2. During the healing process, one will always suffer some type of setback. You will either over-work the injured area or simply make an awkward movement or motion (this can occur while awake or sleeping). In these cases, you may re-strain or re-tear the tissue, and this again will produce some pain and inflammation. When this happen, application of cold therapy will be needed.
3. You may have a job or engage in activity that requires some stress on the injured tissues. If so, then simply take a few moments during the day to apply cold treatments to help keep any pain and soreness at bay. At the end of the workday or activity is the key time to apply the cold treatments.
Overall, cold therapy is more heavily utilized in the early stages of an injury, but still critical when suffering minor setbacks during the healing process.
Now in regards to heat therapy...
It plays the critical role of enhancing blood flow to injured tissues, providing them the nutrients and antibodies needed to heal. More blood flow enhanced the body's ability to generate new collagen and to properly synthesize it.
Here is when a heat based therapy is typically utilized:
1. Treatments typically begin 48 to 72 hours after the initial injury is suffered. Once much of the initial bruising and/or swelling has subsided, then you begin heat and blood flow stimulation based therapies.
2. In cases of surgery, the wait will be longer as it takes longer for bruising and swelling to subside post-operatively. The more intensive the surgical procedure, the longer the wait. The minimum waiting period is typically 2 weeks and/or when one begins mild physical therapy.
3. Heat treatments are key to helping prevent injury. Use before exercise or activity to enhance the extensibility of muscle and connective tissues. The more flexible and limber the tissues are, the less likely you are to injure them during physical activity.
4. If you are dealing with chronic conditions such as arthritis or older degenerative issues, a consistent supply of heat and blood flow to the targeted areas will provide a soothing and comforting feeling.
In some scenarios, such as when suffering from muscle spasm, ice and heat can be used consecutively. Otherwise, it is typically best to utilize each treatment based on the scenarios mentioned above.
Image Source: SOS Resources