Use powerful essential oils to boost the benefits…
If you’ve ever reached for a bag of frozen peas when you’ve twisted an ankle or a hot water bottle to soothe your child’s stomach ache, you already know that pain relief comes in more than one temperature.
But what about when you’ve pulled a muscle lifting that heavy box that you shouldn’t have, or those painful twinges in your knees or fingers? Should you use the hot water bottle or the peas when your back starts playing up? And what will help when that blinding headache refuses to go away?
You’re not alone in being unsure about when it's better to use cold or heat therapy. Back pain, arthritis, muscle strains, headaches - and more. Some aches improve with warmth, while others benefit from cold. Some need both.
Here’s how both cold and heat therapy boosted by the potent healing power of essential oils can quickly help get rid of all your aches and pains - including some you may never have even thought of…
HOW DO COLD AND HEAT THERAPY WORK?
One of the quickest and easiest ways to treat pain and inflammation, the therapeutic power of temperature to soothe and treat those aches and pains is unquestionable.
But the two are very different in what they can help and how they should be used.
Cold therapy provides quick pain relief for injuries - a bit like ibuprofen. It helps narrow your blood vessels so stopping blood from accumulating in the area, and in doing so, relieves the swelling and inflammation. It basically eases the pain by numbing the area - and can also help minimize bruising.
That’s why it’s so good for fresh injuries like ligament sprains, muscle strains, and severe bruises. The general rule of thumb is that a cold compress or ice should only be used within 72 hours of a sudden injury. Cold therapy can also help with sinus headaches, gout and relieve a fever.
On the other hand, heat therapy helps increase blood flow into the area, bringing in a fresh supply of oxygen and nutrients to help heal and soothe pain. Unlike cold therapy which doesn’t ‘repair’ anything, heat actually promotes healing so is best for the more chronic or longer-lasting conditions like backaches, tense shoulders, joint stiffness, muscle spasms, menstrual cramps - and even migraines.
Heat therapy should not be used within 48 hours of a fresh injury or applied to an open wound. And if the area is either bruised or swollen (or both), it’s better to use cold therapy.
HOW ESSENTIAL OILS CAN HELP EASE PAIN
Adding the therapeutic powers of essential oils to your hot and cold treatment can pretty much double up on the benefits you get. Well known to work fast as they move into the bloodstream almost immediately, essential oils penetrate cells quickly, not only reducing inflammation and pain, but also providing those much-needed oxygen and nutrients to promote healing.
Certain oils are more effective anti-inflammatories than others, and are therefore ideally suited to treating immediate injuries, just like cold therapy. Similarly, like heat therapy, other oils are more effective in promoting longer term healing for chronic pain conditions.
According to a 2010 study, these essential oils were found to have anti-inflammatory properties - eucalyptus, thyme, clove, rose, fennel and bergamot - and so would be best paired with cold therapy to address acute - or sudden - pain.
However, chronic pain that persists or continues to progress over a long period of time responds best to heat therapy teamed up with essential oils such as lavender, marjoram, geranium, rosemary, juniper, black pepper and chamomile.
Why Aromatherapy Massage Is So Astonishingly Good for Your Body (And Mind) – Read More
WHEN AND HOW TO USE COLD THERAPY…
Cold therapy is best used on recent injuries, especially where heat is being generated. It lowers your skin temperature. It reduces nerve activity. It eases pain and swelling. It makes it hurt less.
One of the key differences between cold and hot therapy is time related. Cold therapy is used immediately after an injury, and for a much shorter time period. To reap the most benefits, cold therapy should include several daily treatments of up to 20 minutes each time. And if the pain persists after 72 hours, then you should switch to heat therapy.
The R.I.C.E. method (rest; ice; compression; elevation) is one the most useful protocols to follow with a sprain or strain, and also to reduce swelling or sharp pain after any gruelling sports activity or exercise.
Cold therapy has also been linked to increased focus, better-quality sleep, enhanced metabolism and even improved immunity.
Sprains, Strains and Tendonitis
Using cold to treat an acute injury with swelling - sprains, strains, bumps, bruises or tendonitis - is a time-honoured technique.
To treat any of these conditions, thoroughly chill a eucalyptus infused wrap in the freezer, and then tightly wrap it around the injury to quickly reduce swelling and soothe away your aches and pains.
You can also use a chilled eucalyptus spa mask for smaller areas or bruises in the same way you would an ice pack. If only your hands or ankles are affected then eucalyptus mittens or eucalyptus booties are convenient options for pain relief.
Cold therapy can also be helpful for other conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and shin splints, and even help reduce pain and swelling after a hip or knee replacement.
Swollen and Sore Muscles
A popular technique used by athletes is submerging themselves in cold water baths after resistance training, cycling or running to help reduce muscle inflammation and pain after exercise. Known as cold water immersions or cryotherapy, a study has confirmed that this is an effective remedy to not only relieve, but also prevent sore and achy muscles after exercise.
To enhance its effectiveness, add 10-15 drops of eucalyptus oil or a handful of eucalyptus bath salts to a cold-water soak to ease away those aches and pains. If your muscles are particularly painful, help reduce inflammation by massaging away the soreness with eucalyptus massage oil beforehand. Alternatively, just chill a eucalyptus infused spa wrap in the freezer and apply to the affected area.
Commonly associated with flare-ups in the big toe, gout can occur in any joint - the ankles, knees, elbows, wrists or fingers.
Depending on the area you’re treating, soothe away your agony with either eucalyptus infused spa booties, mittens or a wrap after chilling them in the freezer. Experience sweet relief as the cold calms and soothes while the powerful pain-relieving properties of eucalyptus oil ease away the aches.
A well-known home remedy for a fever, cooling sponge baths and cold compresses have long been used to help reduce a raging temperature.
To help reduce inflammation even further, add 10-15 drops of eucalyptus essential oil to a tepid bath. Water that is too cold and ice cube baths can be dangerous and should be avoided if you have a fever.
Or cover your body with a chilled eucalyptus spa blanket to help you stay cool and make you more comfortable. Applying a cold eucalyptus spa mask directly over the forehead or on the nape of the neck can also be effective in helping to reduce a fever.
The Many (Some Unexpected) Uses Eucalyptus Essential Oil Is Good For – Read More
WHEN AND HOW TO USE HEAT THERAPY…
While cold is an immediate first-aid solution for a short period of time, heat therapy can be used as an ongoing treatment to treat and manage chronic pain that does not involve swelling, or injuries older than three days.
You use “heat to treat”. It increases blood flow. It loosens muscles. It dulls pain. It eliminates toxins. It relaxes stiffness. It stops cramps. It heals damaged tissue.
You can either use dry heat - like heated wraps or heat lamps; or moist heat - like warm baths or heated wash cloths. Moist heat is generally considered more effective than dry heat as it penetrates deeper into the tissues.
An average heat therapy session using dry heat would be about 20 minutes up to three times a day, which is ideal for minor stiffness or tension. However more severe pain would benefit from longer sessions like a warm bath lasting from 30 minutes upwards to 2 hours.
Remember that heat therapy can also provide ongoing relief for many of the ailments initially treated with cold therapy if they have not cleared up after 72 hours - like sprains and strains, tendonitis, and stiff and sore muscles.
Chronic Back or Neck Pain
For persistent lower back or neck pain (or any other stubborn pain), nothing soothes away the tension more than a heat pack or neck pillow.
Depending upon the area being treated, heat up either a lavender spa wrap or lavender neck pillow into the microwave and apply to your lower back or neck to ease the pain and tension. If you suffer from repeated neck pain, use a heated lavender neck roll to provide just the right amount of support for your neck while you are asleep.
Sore Aching Feet
Tired and achy feet because of excess activity or just being on the go all day long results in overstressed muscles and connective tissue.
Nothing is more soothing and relaxing for sore foot muscles than a foot spa bath. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil and some Epsom salts to a basin full of warm water, and feel your aches and pains ease away. Finish off with a relaxing rub down with healing lavender foot balm.
After a long hard day, you can also take it easy, sit back and slip your sore feet into some snug lavender infused booties that have been warmed in the microwave for the ultimate in pain relief comfort.
Cramping or Spasms
Heat therapy can provide welcome relief for many kinds of cramping or spasms – for example – menstrual cramps, neuropathic pain, muscular spasms or restless leg syndrome. Applied to the neck, heat may also reduce the spasms that lead to headaches.
Choose between a lavender spa blanket for larger areas or a heated spa wrap for more localised pain. Pop into the microwave for a few minutes before applying to the affected area for about 20 minutes. Repeat up to three times a day for ongoing pain relief.
All-Over Pain or Sensitivity
This could be the result of simple over-exertion of muscles after exercise or heavy lifting, or related to a condition like fibromyalgia, rheumatic disease, and even sleep deprivation.
The soothing effect of a heated lavender spa blanket can help ease a lot of these ills. Other full body treatments would include options like saunas or a hot bath. Adding in the beneficial effects of lavender oil to a bath or sauna will help soothe not only the body, but also relax the mind.
Heat also works well as a pre-workout warm-up for stiff muscles or tissue before any exercise.
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WHEN TO USE BOTH COLD AND HEAT THERAPY…
Using both heat and cold therapy in tandem actually stimulates your body's natural healing force. Alternating between the two makes the most of complimentary outcomes that can help to both reduce acute pain and inflammation, as well heal an injury.
A general rule of thumb is to apply heat for 20 minutes then follow immediately with 20 minutes of cold. You can also use contrast therapy by applying a ratio of 1 minute of cold followed by 3-4 minutes of heat, repeated three times, but remember to always end with cold to keep inflammation at bay.
Migraines, Sinus and Tension Headaches
Headaches can be treated by both cold and hot therapy - it all depends upon the type of headache. Cold helps numb and dull the pain, and also eases a fever. Heat relaxes tense muscles and increases blood flow so bringing in fresh oxygen and nutrients to help relieve the pain.
Similarly, different essential oils also deliver different results. Eucalyptus oil is renowned to effectively clear up a stuffy nose, plus reduce pain and lower blood pressure. Combining cold therapy with eucalyptus is therefore ideal for a sinus headache. Simply chill a couple of eucalyptus infused spa masks in the freezer, place one over the bridge of the nose, and the other on your forehead.
A dual therapy approach using essential oils can also help with migraines and tension headaches. Breathing in lavender has been found to ease migraine symptoms. Its well-known sedative properties also relieve the tension often associated with headaches.
Migraines can respond positively to either cold or heat therapy. Heat can be of particular benefit those who suffer from tension headaches in addition to their migraine attack. Warm up a lavender infused neck pillow in the microwave for a few minutes to help ease away the tension and pain. Repeat as often as necessary.
On the other hand, one study found that applying a chilled neck wrap significantly reduced migraine pain by cooling and numbing nerves in the neck area. Just pop a lavender neck pillow into the freezer and then experiment with both hot and cold to see which works best for you.
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Simple hot and cold treatments can make a huge difference when it comes to arthritis pain.
Applying heat helps to relieve some of the persistent stiffness and joint pain as well as relax the muscles, so improving mobility. Long warm baths or showers in the morning will help you get up and get moving. Using lavender bath salts or shower gel will provide extra support in gently easing away pain and relieving stiffness in the joints.
Heating up a lavender infused spa blanket in the microwave can help keep the joints loose at night (or anytime during the day). You could also use a heat wrap for your shoulders, or lavender booties or mittens for more localised pain. A study also showed that regularly massaging a 5% dilution of lavender oil in sweet almond oil onto swollen joints helps reduce the pain (or use a high quality lavender massage oil).
Cold therapy helps osteoarthritis by reducing any swelling and soreness, as well as temporarily relieving any joint pain caused by an arthritis flare. Chill a eucalyptus spa wrap in the freezer and apply to painful joints in a ’10-minutes on:10-minutes off’ cycle for quick relief.
Whole body cold therapy has also been found to significantly reduce pain in people with arthritis. Toss 10-15 drops of eucalyptus oil into a tepid bath (not too cold) and lie back and relax for about 25 minutes.
A combination of hot and cold therapy can also help with sciatica.
The Ultimate Guide on How to Use Essential Oils – Read More
When it comes to pain relief for practically anything, cold and heat therapy is one of the easiest ways to quickly soothe away the agony, aching and discomfort. Combining them with the potent healing powers of essential oils is truly a match made in heaven…
Before treating with heat, consult a health professional if you have a skin condition, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or a vascular disease.
There's a difference between an essential oil or simply an oil, which is basically a perfume. If a label does not clearly state that it is an 'essential oil,' then it is not a pure oil and should not be used as suggested.