Thermal Modalities

Hot Packs & Cold Packs

When to use heat and when to use cold packs is a common question in a physical therapy clinic. As a general rule, cold packs are used within the first 24 hours of an injury (or procedure) and/or if there is edema present or the risk of edema for 2-3 weeks post-op. Hot packs are used for aches, pains or to increase the flexibility of soft tissue. Heat is also good to increase blood flow to an area and to promote healing. Moist heat and cold packs are great treatment modalities to provide quick pain relief.

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Moist Heat

Moist heat, or hot packs, may be applied to your body if you have an injury. The heat helps to increase circulation to the injured tissues, relax the muscles, and provide pain relief.

At MAXX, our hot packs are kept in a device called a hydrocollator. This is a large tank of hot water. The hot packs are cloth packs filled with clay, but sand or silica mixture hot packs are sometimes used. The hot pack absorbs the hot water, and then it is wrapped in terry cloth covers and towels before being applied to your body. The hot pack is usually kept on the injured body part for 15 to 20 minutes.

Caution must be used when using hot packs as the skin may suffer burns if insufficient toweling is used during the application of the heat. Never remove the towels that buffer your skin from the hot pack without your therapists's consent as burns to the skin may occur. 

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Cold Packs

If you have an injury, cold packs or ice may be applied to your body to help decrease pain and control inflammation. Ice is usually used during the acute or initial phase of injury to limit localized swelling around tissues.
Cold packs are usually applied for 15 to 20 minutes. Like hot packs, care must be used to prevent skin damage from getting too cold.