When is it appropriate for a heating pad and when is it better for an ice pack? Thermotherapy is the use of superficial heat and cold as a therapeutic modality for the treatment of disease or trauma. This is a modality that has been used for centuries!

Cryotherapy is the application of cold after trauma or surgery. The most important physiologic effects are:

  • vasoconstriction (decreasing the diameter of blood vessels)

  • decrease in blood flow

  • decreased swelling

  • reduced enzyme-mediated tissue damage

  • analgesia (pain relief)

  • decreased muscle spasms

There are many different ways to apply cryotherapy, the most common being ice/cold packs, iced towels, ice massage, contrast bath, and cold compression units. The application time depends on the modality chosen, but typically is 10-20 minutes and can be repeated 2-3 times a day. Always have a towel or some type of barrier between the thermotherapeutic modality and your pet’s skin/fur.

Be careful and always supervise your pet when applying cryotherapy, especially over superficial nerves, open wounds, fractures, areas where there may be impairment to nerve function; previous frostbite, patients with hypertension, areas with decreased sensation, and in very old or very young patients. Do not exceed 20 minutes of application time!

The effects of heat are opposite those of cold, except that heat and cold both may relieve and muscle spasm. The most important physiologic effects are:

  • vasodilation (increased circulation, increasing the diameter of blood vessels)

  • pain relief

  • increase soft tissue extensibility

  • relaxation of muscle spasm

As it was with cryotherapy, there are many ways to apply heat such as hot packs/pads, warm water, heating beds, and infrared lamps. The application time depends on the modality chosen, but typically can last 15-30 minutes about 3-4 times a day.

Be careful of burns! As with cryotherapy, always place a towel or some kind of barrier between the thermotherapeutic modality and your pet’s skin/fur.

Local applications of heat are contraindicated in active bleeding, acute inflammation, thrombophlebitis, cardiac insufficiency, fever, malignancy, presence of swelling or edema, and poor body heat regulation.

In short, cryotherapy, or ice, are most useful during the acute inflammation stages of tissue healing, and heat therapy is best for those patients with reduced flexibility in joints/tendons/muscles, and impaired range of motion. Both are GREAT for pain relief and decreasing muscle spasms.

Be sure to ask your rehab vet about which would be best for your pet!

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