Thermotherapy refers to the treatment of disease by the application of heat. Heat can be administered as moist heat with warm compresses or immersion in warm water, or as dry heat with infra-red lamps, electric pads, hot-water bottles or heat packs and therapeutic ultrasound.
Cryotherapy is the local or general use of low temperatures in medical therapy. Cryosurgery makes use of liquid nitrogen to remove malignant or benign lesions. In veterinary physical rehabilitation cryotherapy is administered to superficial areas of the body in the form of cold packs or ice.
The goal of the application of hot or cold therapy is to change the subcutaneous, intra-articular or core temperature of soft tissue in order to improve the symptoms of certain conditions. The intention is to target any affected tissue with minimal impact on the surrounding tissue.
Heat therapy decreases blood pressure, muscle spasm and pain. Body temperature, heart and respiratory rates are increased. There is local vasodilation which increases circulation and enhances metabolism. Tissue extensibility is increased. Therefore, it is best to apply heat in sub-acute and chronic conditions. When considering the phases of tissue repair then heat has a role to play in the proliferative (2 – 6 days post-injury) and remodelling (6 days – 3 months) phases. At Animal Health and Hydro (AHAH) heat is used prior to active exercise in post-surgical patients. This relaxes the patient and reduces pain but also improves tissue extensibility. In other words, the fibrosis that is present becomes easier to manipulate and therefore the active exercise is more effective as range of motion of the affected joint has been increased.
Cold therapy causes vasoconstriction thereby decreasing blood flow to the affected area which reduces inflammation, haemorrhage and oedema. In this way , cryotherapy diminishes pain. Cold is best applied in acute conditions (immediately post surgery or injury) during the inflammatory phase (0 – 48hours) of tissue repair. Application is for approximately 10 minutes, 2 – 3 times per day, and can be a very useful adjunct when managing post-surgical patients. At AHAH we will often advise a client to apply cold to an animal companion’s injured joint following a tough therapy session. This is to aid recovery.
It is important to note that application of cryo- or thermotherapy is safe for animals with a normal skin sensation. When a patient has problems with thermal sensitivity, it could be dangerous. Affected animals cannot feel if they are being burned due to the application. It is always preferable to not apply ice directly to a wound.
The attached journal article shows the efficacy of thermal therapy in the management of low back pain in people.
The advantage is that it is cost-effective and readily available.