Hot & Cold Treatment: When to Heat or Ice a Hand Injury

Heat packs and compresses, or cold packs and ice can help many injuries feel better. They can also help speed up recovery and restore function when used properly. But how do you know whether heat or cold is better for your hand injury?

In this article Bloomfield Hills hand specialist Dr. Uzma Rehman explains how and when heat and cold treatments can help heal your hand injury and alleviate stiffness and pain.

When to Use Heat Treatment for Hand Injury

Heat or warmth treats injuries and pain by speeding up the molecules in the tissue and increasing blood flow to the injured area. Improving circulation, in turn, helps to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the injured muscles and joints. This can help to improve both flexibility and range of motion. Applying heat can also relax muscles and reduce tension, thereby helping to relieve pain and stiffness.

So, heat is typically helpful if the injury or illness is causing stiff joints and muscles.

Heat can also be useful to apply prior to an activity, such as warming up before a workout or participating in athletics. Heat is also often given at the beginning of a physical or occupational therapy. In both cases heat is often most effective when combined with gentle stretching, as prescribed by your physical therapist or trainer.

How to Use Heat Treatment for Hand Injury

Heat therapy to help sore, stiff joints can be as simple as a warm shower or bath – especially in the morning before you start your daily activities. Warm compresses or heating pads can also relieve muscle and joint pain and stiffness. Many types of heat retaining compresses are available online, that can be warmed by boiling or microwaving, and reused over and over.

A unique but affordable and effective form of heat therapy for hand injury or illness is a Paraffin Wax dip. Read More Here.

If you have experienced a muscle or joint injury, always check with your hand doctor or physical therapist to ensure that heat is the best treatment for you. And, remember, too much heat can cause swelling, burns, or tissue damage – so always apply heat treatment with moderation.

When to Use Cold Treatment for Hand Injury

Cold treatments work in the opposite way – by slowing down the molecules in tissues and reducing blood flow to an injured hand or joint. Cooling the skin and injured soft tissues, and reducing circulation to the area helps to decrease inflammation, and prevent swelling. Cold therapies also have a numbing effect which can further reduce pain in that area.

So cold therapy is most useful after an injury such as a sprain, strain, or fracture, as well as for any type of swelling, such as that caused by arthritis.

While heat therapy is often helpful before exercise or physical therapy, cold treatments are particularly helpful after working out, exertion or physical therapy.

How to Use Cold Treatment for Hand Injury

The most common cold treatments are either ice or some type of commercially available pack (like a gel pack) that has been made cold by placing it in the freezer. (Some people also use bags of frozen vegetables or even frozen meat!)

Ice or cold packs should only be applied for about 15 minutes, followed by a 15-minute rest before reapplying. Just as with heat, too much cold can slow down and stiffen sore joints, so always use this treatment with your doctor or therapist’s approval and in moderation.

Remember: applying ice or anything extremely cold to bare skin can cause injury, so always wrap the source of cold in some sort of fabric. And stop using the cold treatment if you begin to feel pain or significant numbness due to the cold.

With both heat and cold therapy check the skin every 5-10 minutes, and never apply to areas of the body where there is inadequate sensation to prevent burns or freeze injury.

Hand Injury Doctor – Bloomfield Hills, MI

As always, if you have suffered a hand, finger or wrist injury contact experienced Bloomfield Hills hand doctor Uzma Rehman, MD. If it is only a mild condition, she will be able to advise you over the phone if heat or cold may be best to help your situation.

For more serious medical problems of the hand, fingers or wrist, she can examine you at her Bloomfield Hills, or Shelby Twp. Office.

Hand Injury Doctor – Bloomfield Hills: 248.940.5233