Should you be using heat or cold on your pet?
Thermotherapy (heat) and cryotherapy (cold) are great modalities that can be utilised in the clinic and at home but when should you use them?
Thermotherapy is normally used when we want to warm the tissues and is great for using over any arthritic joints or where we want to reduce muscle spasm. By heating up the soft tissues we increase the blood flow to the area where it is applied. This will increase soft tissue and joint flexibility and reduce stiffness. A damp towel that has been in the microwave, gel packs or wheaty bags can be used to apply heat. Regular checks of the skin need to be done and the heat source should never be placed directly on the area.
Cryotherapy is best used in the acute phase of injury, straight after a surgical intervention or straight after an exercise-related injury. The application of cold will constrict blood vessels and reduce blood flow to an area. This is ideal if we want to minimise inflammatory chemicals getting to a particular site and reduce any swelling. Cold also disrupts pain transmission via the nerves over the area where it is applied. There are lots of ways to apply cryotherapy such as gel packs, ice in a bag or a bag of peas. You should always ensure that the cold source is wrapped in a damp tea towel before being applied to the skin. You need to frequently check the skin as there is a risk of ice burn and we do not recommend using cryotherapy for longer than 20 minutes and normally for no more than 72 hours after the initial injury.
You should only use heat or cold as directed by your Veterinary Surgeon or physiotherapist, so if you are in any doubt please have a chat with them before proceeding. Used in the correct way and at the appropriate time cryotherapy and thermotherapy are ideal ways to make your pet more comfortable.