Cold or heat therapy after an injury?


What happens in the tissue after an injury?

When a runner pulls his groin or a tennis player pulls a tendon, the surrounding soft tissue in the pain area is injured.
Immediately after the mishap, in addition to the strain of muscles, tendon and/or ligament, the rupture of the small blood vessels (capillaries) that normally transport oxygen to these tissues occurs.
The damaged vessels thus lose serum and blood into the adjacent tissue.

Therefore, local swelling is observed immediately after a lesion.
The injured tissue becomes painful and sore, either directly from the trauma or indirectly from the subsequent swelling.

This leads to stiffness, muscle pain and wound pain, which often accompany inflammation caused by tendinitis, bursitis and distortion. Also, it must be taken into account that trauma to the bones (for example, a fracture) can occur together with an injury to the nearby soft tissue.

Which application is best after an injury?

The swelling and most of the inflammation after an injury is mainly due to the leakage of inflammatory fluid from the capillaries.
Treatments with cold and ice favor the contraction of blood vessels.
This narrowing of the blood vessels reduces the leakage of further blood and serum, thus also reducing the extent of swelling.

What does ice do after an injury and why does heat hurt?

Ice reduces the leakage of blood and inflammatory fluid from the capillaries into the tissues at the site of injury.
One of the most effective remedies is ice, which reduces swelling.
On the contrary, heating causes dilation of capillaries.

This expansion leads to even more leakage of inflammatory fluid from the capillaries and consequently causes:

  • Increased swelling,
  • More pain

It is important to note that bleeding in the tissue slows down the healing process.

Warm compresses after an injury

A few days after an injury (when the tissues are healing), therapy other than immediate treatment is necessary.
As a rule, blood loss from the capillaries is blocked by the formation of microscopic coaguls of blood that naturally close the wound.
The body must absorb the blood that has remained in the tissues.
At this moment, heat treatment can help, as it promotes blood circulation in the affected area.

Some prefer warmth

Stiff and aching muscles heal better under heat therapy, because the heat relaxes and loosens tired muscles.
The envelope must be very hot, but not boiling to avoid burns.
You can also use heat before physical training to improve mobility, loosen muscles and increase joint elasticity

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