Pain Management Specialist Questions Pain relief

How does alternative hot and cold packs help in relieving pain?

For muscular pain, my doctor suggested doing alternative hot and cold packs. How does this help in relieving pain?

3 Answers


I typically recommend heat only for chronic muscular tension and pain. Heat, magnesium in oral, liquid or epsom salt baths can reduce muscular pain and tension.

Nichelle C. Renk, M.D.
Alternating hot and cold packs helps as the hot packs help increase blood flow to area, which can help with healing. The cold packs then help reduce inflammation and inflammatory free radical formation. For acute pain, cold is better. For chronic symptoms, warm and alternating packs can help.
Usually cold is used in the immediate acute injury setting in the first 48 hours (RICE is an acronym used for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). This helps decrease the inflammatory response as well as reduce swelling and pain. After this initial period, depending on the area of injury, it may be useful to alternate between hot and cold to expedite the removal of damaged tissue cells and improve mobility. Heat usually helps loosen muscular issues after these periods have passed. Hope this helps.