Cold and Heat Therapy

COLD or cryotherapy should be used immediately after a new injury to help reduce the degree of trauma the tissue will have to deal with. Initiating cold for up to 20 minutes at a time can do several things.

  • By decreasing the cell metabolic rate it slows the requirement for nutrients, oxygen, and perfusion. Slowing its work capacity allows for a quiet environment in the face of trauma and the changes that brings to the area.
    Vasoconstriction helps to stop bleeding, reducing bruising and swelling.
  • Decreasing an inflammatory response means less redness, less pain, and potentially less chance for infection.
  • A decreased nerve conduction velocity is achieved by the chilling effect. Slowing nerve transmission is how it reduces pain.
  • Decreasing muscle contraction helps further to prevent nerve irritation and pain. Contraction of muscle at the site of a fracture can make a surgical reduction more difficult when the muscle must be relaxed to achieve positioning again.
  • Increased pain threshold means that it takes more pain before the minds would perceive pain exists. This effect helps the body deal better with what has happened and keeps the adrenal cortisol stress response lower.
  • Decreasing collagen and muscle capacity and response to stretch keeps the tissue in more of its true shape and size so that less swelling occurs.

For all these reasons it is wise to apply cold therapy for the first 3 days after injury or at the end of a busy day when a body suffers from a chronic arthritic or inflammatory condition. Utilizing massage with cold therapy yields better results than either done alone.

Applying Cold Therapy:
WHEN – During the first 72 hours after tissue injury
HOW – 15 minutes per treatment (do not exceed 20 minutes) 3 to 5 times per day
WHAT – You can use any of the following. Cold plus massage benefits more than cold used alone.

  • Ice cups – fill Styrofoam cups, freeze tear off part of cup and use to massage and chill the area
  • Cold packs – these are commercially available or you can make your own with a freezer zip lock bag. Mix 2 parts water and 1 part isopropyl alcohol. Put in freezer where it will become a cold pliable icy bag. Wrap in a small towel before applying to the animal’s body.
  • Flax pillow in the freezer

HEAT or thermal therapy is used starting 3 days after an injury or for a chronic condition like arthritis to help create circulation and relaxation in tissue. Heat helps with muscle spasms, tendinitis, bursitis, scars and contracted tissue, sprains and strains, and chronic pain. It does this by:

  • Increasing the body’s capacity to use oxygen.
  • It further increases membrane diffusion and enzymatic activity using the oxygen and moving metabolic wastes (toxins and trash) out of the traumatized tissue area. Getting the old cellular debris expelled further reduces pain.
  • Opening up blood vessels (vasodilation) also gets more nutrients into the joints and tissue.
  • Relaxation of irritated muscle spindles at the heart of the trigger points will neutralize those zones allowing the muscle to function more optimally.
  • Locally heat decreases pain by decreasing muscle spasm and connective tissue ischemia and lengthens the shortened fascia that had been putting pressure on nerves.
  • Heat causes a reflex pain inhibition by increasing the temperature of sensory nerve cells. The message of heat travels rapidly to the brain, blocking out the pain message and raising the threshold of the sensory nerve endings resulting in long term pain relief.

Applying Heat Therapy:
WHEN – After 72 hours with an acute injury or with a chronic condition
HOW – Up to 20 minutes or divided doing 10 minutes on/ 10 off/10 on. The temperature of the target tissue must elevate at least 5 degrees Fahrenheit, but DO NOT exceed 12 degrees elevation. Moist heat is preferred.

  • Flax pillows
  • Air activated heat wrap applications can be used.
  • Moist heat towel
  • Take a small towel and saturate with water then ring out most of it. Put it into a plastic bag and place in the microwave for 1 minute, invert the towel exposing the inside and heat for additional time if needed. When finished heating take the towel out of the plastic and wrap it in a dry towel then lay across the affected area.