Hot Cold therapy

hot cold (1)

A few years back, I sprained my wrist in a motorcycle training course. That’s as bad-ass as I can make the experience sound, and I should probably leave out the part about it really being a scooter… Accidents happen, right?

And the aftermath happens too. After the wrist cast came off, I experienced vascular compression. That’s a technical way of saying that internal swelling from the sprain caused pressure on veins, arteries and nerves in my hand and wrist. And it’s super common after trauma incidents.


Trauma falls into three categories:

  • ocu hazardYou hit a body part really hard. In my case, my wrist smashed the ground and the motorcycle landed on it. (yeah, I’m back to calling it a motorcycle. It was heavy!)
  • You did something repetitive that caused trauma to your soft-tissue (Soft tissue is anything that isn’t a bone or a liquid.) A runner client recently asked me to assess her cranky foot. Turned out her new running shoes were compressing her foot and…..she was running 10 miles a day in them. The shoes alone might have been fine, but the repetitive steps she took in them caused the trauma.
  • You’re managing a malady that sometimes involves swelling. Maybe you had a surgery a few months ago, and still have residual pain. Or, you have arthritis, fibromyalgia or another disease that involves some kind of swelling, whether you can see it visually or not.


  • Pressure. In my case, it felt like someone was firmly holding my wrist. For my runner friend, she had pressure on the top of her foot, traveling to a couple toes.
  • Tingling. In my case, two of my fingers hurt or had tingling sensations.
  • Electrical zaps. This is the hallmark indicator of nerve compression.
  • Pain where you don’t actually see swelling. I know, that seems weird, yet it’s very common. If you’ve seen your Doc, and nothing is broken or needs medical intervention, it may simply be a case of internal swelling/vascular compression.


For my hand, I used 2 kitchen sinks, filling one with hot water and one with cold water. For feet and ankles, you can use foot basins or buckets. Make the temperature tolerable for dunking your appendage.

  • Submerge the hand & wrist in the hot bath for 10-15 seconds. This should feel good, not like you’re cooking yourself.
  • Submerge the hand & wrist in the cold bath for 20-30 seconds — twice the time of the hot bath. For me, this felt annoying, but tolerable. If it hurts, take your hand out!
  • Repeat 3x, ending with the cold bath.

Now move your hand around. It should feel noticeably better right away, as if your blood is able to move around more freely and the compression has lifted from the nerves. If it doesn’t feel better, it’s likely that you’re not experiencing a vascular compression issue. Please go get it checked out.


  • Get your injury checked out to be sure you haven’t broken something.  If you can see swelling, DO NOT use heat. Use the RICE method instead: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
  • Once the visible swelling has receded, ask your doc if hot/cold therapy is a good idea. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Oh, yeah. That’ll help!”
  • Use common sense: don’t use a temperature that is painful to the skin or causes numbness. Don’t increase the timeframes unless your Doc recommends it.
  • In general, as long as you don’t have visible swelling or irritated skin, you’re not going to make anything worse with the Hot/Cold treatment.
  • You can do the treatment up to 2x a day. I treated my wrist 1x/day for a month and then didn’t feel the need any longer. My runner friend used the treatment for a week and then didn’t feel the need. She threw out that pair of running shoes.

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