Q: I’ve heard that alternating hot and cold on the body can speed up injury recovery from workouts. Can you tell me why? Simon Barnes, by email
A: As an Olympian and World Champion rower and now GB age group triathlete, I have used hot and cold therapy to help me recover from tough workouts and injury.
When you sustain an injury, it will often result in inflammation, swelling and pain at the site. In this acute situation, it is helpful to apply a cold pack to the affected area as soon as possible and this should continue until the swelling has subsided, which can take up to 72 hours. By applying cold it will help to reduce the inflammation and swelling and therefore ease the pain.
The acronym “PRICE” refers to Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevate. Doing all of these can help prevent your injury from progressing and promote healing. Cold therapy is particularly useful for sprains and strains, bumps and bruises as it causes the blood vessels to constrict, this can help minimise damage. I would recommend products such as Deep Freeze Pain Relief Cold Spray or Deep Freeze Cold Gel for cold therapy on the go.
Contrast therapy is the use of alternating hot and cold treatments to address an injury. It is thought that this works by causing alternating blood vessel spasm and dilatation, thereby creating a “pumping” effect of blood to the affected area. It may also have an effect on the way our nerves perceive the injury. Usually a cold pack is applied for 1-minute followed by 3 or 4 minutes of warm therapy, and then alternating back and forth again. I use this technique, as do many other athletes, following a particularly difficult workout to minimise muscle soreness the following day.
The relationship between how much time you spend on each of hot and cold is personal to the athlete and takes some experimentation to find what works best for them. More chronic pain that recurs can be effectively treated with heat therapy. Heat increases blood flow to the affected area, providing oxygen and nutrients to aid the heeling process and helps to restore movement. A Deep Heat product such as Deep Heat Pain Relief Spray or the new Deep Heat Muscle Massage Roll-on Lotion, can be applied to the affected area where the pain is felt and it can be used before exercise as part of a warm-up where previous injury has occurred.