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Hot and cold treatments can be very effective as a first response to muscle and joint related injuries so hot and cold packs or wraps are very handy items to keep in your first aid kit. Applying heat to injured tissue increases blood flow to the area and aids in restoring movement and reducing stiffness in a joint. Conversely, applying a cool or cold pack can ease swelling and reduce pain in both acute and chronic injuries. The trick lies in knowing which one to use and when.

When to Use Heat Packs or Cold Packs

The general rule is to use cold or ice for acute injuries that cause swelling or pain and heat to reduce muscle pain and stiffness in joints. Occasionally, both treatments may be required for the same injury. This treatment can be useful for exercise related muscle pain.

Hand and Feet Warmers

Hand or feet warmers are usually sold in sealed pouches that are used once and then disposed of. They work by causing a chemical reaction that produces heat when the chemicals inside the pouch are combined by crushing or mixing. They generally give off heat for up to five or six hours and work wonderfully when kept in your pockets or place in the bottom of your shoes.

Heat and Cold Pack Styles

Traditional heat packs are often made of flannel or heavy material filled with wheat, buckwheat or flax seed which can be heated in a microwave before use. Similarly, cold packs are often simple pouches of a gel-like substance that is kept in the freezer until needed. Either of these are suitable alternatives to those that work by the release of heat or cold through chemical reactions.

Whichever style you choose, always exercise due care when applying hot or cold packs and wraps to treat injuries. Extreme heat or ice should never be applied directly to the skin as both can cause burns. When in doubt, always seek professional medical advice.

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