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Sports injuries: heat or cold?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 387 views

Heat and cold should quickly relieve pain from a strain or other sports injuries. But when do you use cold and when do you use heat? How does which temperature work? Read here what is best to do in the event of a sports injury such as a strain.

Heat or cold: treat sports injuries correctly

A rule of thumb states that the affected area should be cooled in the case of acute symptoms and warmed up in the case of chronic pain. That is partly true. In the case of blunt injuries or strains, cold as first aid on the affected area ensures that the vessels contract. This reduces bruising, swelling and, most importantly, pain.

Heat, on the other hand, dilates the blood vessels and stimulates blood circulation. As a result, tendons and muscle fibers become more flexible and the tissue loosens up. The additional oxygen from the blood supplies the muscles with nutrients and thus also promotes healing. Heat is therefore used for longer-lasting injuries or in the regeneration phase. In the case of inflammatory processes, however, treatment is not advisable.

You should carefully try out which temperature is best for your individual situation and possibly discuss it with a doctor.

First aid ice spray

The fouled footballer rolls on the lawn, the supervisors rush onto the field and wrap the hit shin in a mist from the spray bottle. Miraculously healed, the athlete gets up shortly afterwards, hobbles a few steps and then quickly rushes after the ball again.

Ice spray and so-called cold anesthesia are behind the miracle cure. It is an example of a therapeutic application of cold, a complementary measure for sports injuries . The applications do not provide any real healing: Most of the “icy” footballers have to be treated further after the game or are out for a while.

How cold works

Almost every process in the body is slowed down under the influence of cold: The activity of pro-inflammatory messenger substances is reduced, less fluid escapes from the constricted blood vessels into the tissue, and pain is felt less because the nervous system is also cooled down. These effects make cold therapy useful in various situations.

  • Areas of application for cold: Degenerative diseases of the joints, closed injuries to ligaments, joints and muscles (eg bruises) and complaints after operations; the application of cold can remain locally limited, be extended regionally or extend to the whole body.
  • Duration of a cold treatment: A treatment duration of up to five minutes is considered a short-term application, a treatment duration of more than five minutes is considered a long-term application; with interruptions, a treatment for hours is also possible
  • Which tissue the cold reaches: skin , subcutaneous tissue, muscles, joints (depending on the duration of use)
  • When cold does not help or is not advisable: Hypersensitivity reactions to cold, severe circulatory disorders, diseases of the coronary arteries, a hypersensitivity reaction of the extremities to cold (Raynaud’s disease), open injuries.

These cold applications for athletes are there

  • Cold sprays : work via evaporative cooling, e.g. B. by evaporating chloroethyl. Used for many non-bleeding sports injuries. Caution! The sprays can lead to local frostbite if used improperly.
  • Ice packs, cold packs, cold compresses: available in many versions, as compresses they can be adapted to the contours of the body; useful especially for acute injuries; Caution! Always place a towel or something similar between the ice pack and the injured area to avoid frostbite.
  • Cold chamber: Temperatures down to -110 °C are possible; can help with inflammatory-degenerative and chronic-inflammatory joint diseases or chronic pain, among other things; has a fast pain-relieving effect. Caution! Only to be carried out under medical supervision.
  • Ice immersion bath: used to treat painfully altered joints; Immerse the affected part of the body in a container of ice-cold water for up to ten minutes under medical supervision.
  • Kneipp therapy, ice-cold wraps: Cold water showers or cooling wraps can also be used at home; effective eg for chronic pain as part of a more comprehensive therapy.

This is how heat works

Similar to a warm-up before sport, warmth gets the organism going. All major transportation systems are accelerating. Antibodies from the immune system, for example, get to where they are needed more quickly, and metabolic waste products are removed more quickly. In addition, pain-triggering signal substances are transported away more quickly, which reduces sensitivity to pain.

  • Areas of application for heat: signs of wear and tear (arthrosis) and chronic diseases and inflammation of the joints. The heat treatment can be local (e.g. as a fango pack) or extend over the whole body (e.g. full bath).
  • Duration of a heat treatment: From 15 minutes (mud pack, paraffin bath) to 40 minutes (hay bag)
  • Which tissue the heat reaches: skin, connective tissue , muscles
  • When heat does not help or is not advisable: In the case of acute flare-ups of inflammatory joint diseases, chronic breathing difficulties, cardiovascular diseases, acute infections with high fever or heat intolerance.

There are these heat applications for athletes

  • Infrared, Ultrasound, High Frequency Therapy: Therapeutic heating of tissue using optical energy, sound waves or electromagnetic fields.
  • Peat, moor, fango and mud packs: The heated natural healing substances act on the affected parts of the body and remain there for a period of around 15 to 20 minutes. The packs are often used in combination with massages.
  • Hay flower therapy as a bath or pack: This therapy has a strong calming effect on diseased joints, tendons and muscles. The temperature of the hay pack is around 40 °C; the pack stays on the skin for about 35 minutes. The hay bath goes back to Pastor Kneipp.
  • Hot roll: It consists of several layers of cloth. Hot water is poured into the innermost rolled cloth (it then gives off heat to the other layers). Slowly roll the towel roll back and forth over the affected area. When the outermost layer has cooled, remove the cloth and continue massaging with the following layers. Duration: 15 to 20 minutes. The hot roller helps with chronically painful conditions such as tennis elbow, but also with muscle tension.
  • Hot pack, warm compress: Works similar to the cold compress. Warm the compress in hot water or in the microwave and place it on the painful area. The hot packs are used for pain in the joints.
  • Paraffin bath (hands): In this application, liquid paraffin is heated to around 45 °C. The athlete dips their hands for about five minutes and then wraps the joints for about 20 minutes. The paraffin bath can be useful in case of strong signs of wear and tear of the joints in the hands.
  • Warming bath: The bath starts at body temperature. Then hot water flows in until about 40 °C is reached. The bath lasts about 35 minutes. It is used, for example, for arthritis and degenerative spinal disorders. Caution! Overheating baths should only be carried out under medical supervision! A doctor must monitor body temperature, pulse and blood pressure, and keep an eye on the patient for a while after the bath.

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