Corydalis Alternative: Hot and Cold Packs
Much attention has recently focused on corydalis for relief of acute, chronic and inflammatory pain — and rightly so. Corydalis is effective, safe and easy to use. There are, however, alternative approaches to consider as well. Over-the-counter analgesic medications and topical-application products, for example, offer more ways to manage pain. So do certain alternative/complementary treatments. In addition, two simple, inexpensive and often effective methods for further pain relief are heat and cold treatments. Therapeutic icing and heating — cryotherapy and thermotherapy — are rational, cheap options for self-treatment with minimal risks. Hot or cold packs, or sometimes a combination of the two, can provide relief for sore muscles and joints.
Which Is Better for Pain Relief — Heat or Cold?
The general rule here: Ice is for injuries, and heat is for muscles. Icing is mostly just a mild, drugless way of dulling the pain of inflammation. Unfortunately ice can make muscle tension and spasms worse. Heat, on the other hand, takes the edge off pain of whole muscle spasms and trigger points while it soothes the nervous system and the mind. The downside to heat is that it can make inflammation worse. Be careful; cold and heat have the potential to do some mild harm when mixed up.
In the final analysis, though, use whichever feels better to you at the time. Your own preference is the tie-breaker and probably the most important consideration. For instance, heat cannot help if you already feel unpleasantly flushed and don’t want to be heated. And ice is unlikely to be effective if you have a chill and hate the idea of being iced. If you are trying to use one and you don’t like the feel of it, just switch to the other.
Ice packs and heating pads are not especially powerful medicine. Recent experiments have shown that both therapies have only mild benefits. Those benefits are roughly equal, for example, in treating back pain. Researchers concluded: “…choice of heat or cold therapy should be based on patient and practitioner preferences and availability.”
How Should Hot and Cold Treatments Be Used?
To get the most relief from hot or cold treatments without damaging your skin, try these tips:
- use either heat or cold for only 15 to 20 minutes at a time
- place a towel or clean, soft cloth between your skin and the cold or heat source
- never use heat or cold on skin with open cuts or sores
- do not use cold packs at all if you have poor circulation or vasculitis condition
- always test the temperature before using either heat or cold
- avoid creams, heat rubs or lotions on your skin while using a hot or cold treatment
- use caution with heating pads because they can cause severe burns if too hot or if left on for too long
- to avoid excessive fatigue and dizziness, do not make bath or shower water too hot
Cold can numb sore areas and reduce inflammation by lessening blood flow to the affected area. It is especially effective to relieve swelling and pain of a joint injury or arthritis flare. Cold is best for acute pain because it restricts blood vessels, slowing circulation and reducing swelling. It also numbs nerve endings and thus dulls pain.
You can, perhaps, best apply cold by using a commercial gel cold pack. It will stay cold longer and may come in a convenient sleeve-form to wrap easily around a joint. Best of all, it won’t leak. A water bottle filled with ice and cold water can also be effective.
In a pinch you can even press common household items into service. After wrapping in a towel to protect the skin, apply any of the following items to painful areas for no more than 20 minutes at a time:
- fill zip-lock plastic freezer or storage bags with ice and water
- create a homemade ice pack by mixing a cup of rubbing alcohol with two cups of water and freezing in a zip-top plastic bag
- apply a plastic bag filled with frozen vegetables (peas and corn are good)
- dip a wash cloth or hand towel into cold water and ice; then drape it around the affected area
- for an ice bath, submerge the painful area in a container filled with ice and water
Heat packs relax your muscles. They enhance circulation and deliver nutrients to joints and muscles. Heat dilates blood vessels so that more oxygen and blood can flow to the area. It can also decrease the sensation of pain. Heat treatments, such as heating pads or warm baths, tend to work best for soothing stiff joints and tired muscles. Heat is also good for getting your body limber and ready for exercise or other activities.
You can apply heat with commercial heat packs, heating pads or hot water bottles. Other ways to use heat include:
- soak in a warm bathtub or whirlpool
- stand under a warm shower
- use a warm paraffin wax treatment system for sore hand or foot joints. Such products are available for purchase at drugstores or beauty-supply stores.
- apply a heating pad for up to 20 minutes at a time. Protect exposed skin with a cloth or towel buffer.
- soak a washcloth or hand towel in warm water; then apply to painful joints or muscles
- use moist store-bought heat pads from the drugstore. Otherwise make one by putting a wet washcloth inside a freezer bag and heating it in a microwave. Wrap the homemade hot pack in a towel and place it over the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes.
- apply mineral oil to stiff, painful hand joints and put on rubber dishwashing gloves. Then place your gloved hands in hot tap water for five to ten minutes.