cold vs heat therapy
Health and Wellness

Differences Between Cold vs Heat Therapy

Dec 08, 2022

Heat and cold therapy are two of the most commonly used remedies to help relieve pain from muscle or joint damage. Frequently used in tandem, the differences between heat therapy vs cold therapy are subtle, yet important. Each has its own purpose to help your body heal and works best when paired alongside complementary recovery methods like massage.


Today, we’re taking a closer look at cold vs heat therapy. Read on, and explore how each works on the body and how to maximize their effectiveness when you need them.

Cold vs Heat Therapy: What’s the Difference?


When it comes to muscle strain recovery or any number of other aches, pains, or injuries, cold and heat application is the go-to remedy for many. Each impacts the body and helps with the healing process, but what’s the difference between them? While it’s useful to understand the differences between cold vs heat therapy, their benefits are complementary to one another and work well when applied strategically.

Cold Therapy


We’ll start our examination of cold vs heat therapy with the former, also known as cryotherapy. There are a number of different ways to apply cold therapy including:


  • Ice packs or frozen gel packs
  • Ice baths
  • Cold soaks in the tub
  • Coolant sprays
  • Massage using ice

Using cold therapy vs heat therapy is beneficial when you’re looking to limit blood flow to an injured area. While it may sound counterintuitive to our usual advocating for increasing blood circulation, restricting blood flow to an injured spot on your body with cold therapy applications can significantly help reduce inflammation and swelling.


Cold therapy applications may also act as a local anesthetic by numbing sore or damaged tissue. Additionally, experts recommend against applying cold therapy to the bony parts of your spinal column. It’s imperative that you don’t apply cold therapy directly to your skin, however, as it could lead to further tissue damage. Instead, wrap an ice pack in a thin towel or other material to create a barrier between it and your skin.


You can use cold therapy applications like ice packs several times a day for the first few days following an injury or soreness, but should limit each session to between 10 and 15 minutes. This prevents nerve, tissue, and skin damage. Furthermore, elevating the affected area may enhance the effects.

Heat Therapy


Switching over to heat therapy vs cold therapy methods, we’ll point out there are different kinds of heat therapy broken down into two categories: moist heat vs dry heat. We aren’t talking about the humidity here, but the type of application being used.


Moist heat therapy includes options like moist gel heating packs, steamed towels, hot baths, or jacuzzis. These application methods of heat vs cold therapy are effective, but take more time and effort to use.


Dry heat therapy options, on the other hand, are more popular because they’re easier to apply as needed without the added prep time of drawing a hot bath or steaming towels beforehand. These dry heat therapy applications include heating pads, dry saunas, or heated massage chairs.


At first glance, it may appear to some that heat vs cold therapy offers the same benefits. While there is some overlap, they’re not fully interchangeable and heat therapy is often better to apply on an ongoing basis as compared to cold therapy. The benefits of heat therapy are aimed to:


  • Alleviate back and shoulder pain
  • Loosen muscles and prevent stiffness
  • Improve blood circulation
  • Fight against inflammation and swelling

One of the most notable differences between cold vs heat therapy is that the first seeks to restrict blood flow to an area whereas the latter increases it. Once the body has set its recovery in motion with cold therapy applications, heat therapy is useful for speeding up that recovery and getting you back on your feet in no time.

Ongoing Use of Heat Therapy vs Cold Therapy


When it comes to cold vs heat therapy, the ability for ongoing use is another factor to consider. Ongoing cold therapy applications may not be necessary for most people unless you’re an athlete with specific stressors on the body like needing shoulder tension relief from pitching or throwing a football. Most often, cold therapy is best after an injury occurs and applied a few times a day for the first 72 hours. This can vary based on the intensity of your injury, but is not always likely to continue beyond that.


Heat therapy, on the other hand, can provide ongoing benefits when used regularly by people of any age and lifestyle. From muscle recovery to helping relieve arthritis symptoms, heat therapy is a tool that works. In order to maximize the effectiveness of heat vs cold therapy on an ongoing basis, many have turned to the benefits of owning a massage chair at home!


Owning a luxury massage chair is much more than an act of vanity, it’s part of a self-care routine for a healthy lifestyle. The best full body massage chairs offer bonus features like heat therapy that enhance the experience, giving you the combined benefits of massage and heat therapy to help you rest, relax, and recover completely. Imagine being able to choose from different types of massage and pair them with heat therapy with a few simple selections! You’ll find the benefits of owning a massage chair are numerous for people of every age, lifestyle, and need.


Now that you’ve gotten a better understanding of the differences between cold vs heat therapy, you can maximize their effectiveness when you need them. For injuries and soreness, you may want to start with cold therapy. Afterward, and potentially on an ongoing basis, switch to heat therapy and put your body at ease as it heals. The benefits of each of these applications have the same goal, to get you back to a pain-free life.


Curious about combining massage and heat therapy with a luxury massage chair? Check out the Ogawa Active L 3D Massage Chair to promote total body wellness.
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