Risks of heat therapy
Heat therapy should utilize “warm” temperatures instead of “hot” ones. If you use heat that’s too hot, you can burn the skin. If you have an infection and use heat therapy, there is a chance that the heat therapy could increase the risk of the infection spreading. Heat applied directly to a local area, like with heating packs, should not be used for more than 20 minutes at a time.
If you experience increased swelling, stop the treatment immediately.
If heat therapy hasn’t helped lessen any pain or discomfort after a week, or the pain increases within a few days, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Risks of cold therapy
If you’re not careful, cold therapy applied for too long or too directly can result in skin, tissue, or nerve damage.
If you have cardiovascular or heart disease, consult your doctor before using cold therapy.
If cold therapy hasn’t helped an injury or swelling within 48 hours, call your doctor.
Knowing when to use cold therapy and when to use heat therapy will significantly increase the effectiveness of the treatment. Some situations will require both. Arthritic patients, for example, may use heat for joint stiffness and cold for swelling and acute pain.
If either treatment makes the pain or discomfort worse, stop it immediately. If the treatment hasn’t helped much with regular use in a few days, you can make an appointment to see your doctor to discuss other treatment options.
It’s also important to call your doctor if you develop any bruising or skin changes over the course of treatment.