There are many ways hydrotherapy can be a catalyst in healing the body.

Today we will be discussing hydrotherapy in the form of heat vs. ice for pain. Both have a time and place of when best to use them.

I occasionally have an old injury that reappears. Tennis elbow is back with a vengeance and I have been be trying to heal it with hydrotherapy, along with other holistic modalities like massage, herbs, compresses, and acupuncture.

There are different beliefs between Western and Eastern philosophies of using hydrotherapy. 

Let’s dive into this concept a bit,  hydrotherapy heat vs. ice for pain, as ice and heat both have a time and place when each should be used. And I want to find out what is best for this old injury.

It can feel good at the time to put ice to an injury since ice is analgesic, or to make the muscle pains numb and alleviate the intensity.

Keep in mind here, using ice keep keeps fresh blood from entering the area (vasoconstriction), creating constrictions in the fluid and blood vessels. This is why ice is so helpful during acute injuries with swelling.

Ice is also great for bug bites or stings as it is an analgesic. It can be used when you are in the middle of a sports game or long bike ride and there is an intense pain that arises and you need to push through to finish. Ice is useful in these situations, and then switch to heat once the task is complete and swelling has gone down.

In Eastern medicine they do not recommend using ice as frequently. Instead, they learn more towards heat for healing.

The philosophy is wanting fresh fluids and blood to move into the area to heal the tissues. In western medicine we have long had the R.I.C.E. approach given to us. Rest, ice, compression, elevation. For decades, RICE has been the gold standard for minor sprains and strains. But does this method work?

There has been a shift in trainers and doctors from recommending this method to moving towards a more active and heat based approach to healing. The RICE method might be slowing down the healing process, for certain types of injuries.

Movement encourages blood flow. Keeping the part immobile restricts the flow of blood and lymph, which helps repair tissue damage.

Ice constricts blood vessels, limiting fresh blood to the effected muscles and joints, for a short period. Heat creates vasodialation, the opening of the vessels to move blood closer to the injury site. Some advocate for an alternation of ice and heat.

Compression limits blood flow—compressed blood vessels can’t bring more fresh blood to the area to bring healing nutrients.

Elevation, by way of gravity, makes it hard for your body to get adequate blood to the injury.

So after researching for this blog, I believe ice to be useful for immediate accute injuries, but heat once the acute swelling has gone, can actually help the healing process. I have switched to using heat for my tennis elbow, since it is now an older, chronic, injury that has crept back in. I can say for my body, over the last two weeks of using heat (along with massage and stretching) there is a lot less intensity in the joint and muscles.

It’s always useful to research new methods and see what might work for you!

Heat hydrotherapy of interest to you? Try our Hammam Steam room!