It’s a perennial question: if you hurt, is it better to apply heat or cold to the painful area? Now a new pair of case reports makes the decision even more difficult.

General Principles: How to Choose Hot or Cold

For most instances of daily pain, the decision is relatively easy. You apply heat when you’re trying to soothe sore muscles, and cold when you’re trying to stop inflammation.

This means that heat is best for overexertion, tension, and other muscle-related pains.

On the other hand, cold is more effective if you’ve experienced trauma, had an operation, or are trying to combat pain related to an infection.

This is the reason why heat is more often effective on jaw pain. Most jaw pain, whether we’re talking TMJ or other causes of jaw pain, is related to muscle soreness or exhaustion.

But What about Debilitating Chronic Pain?

The harder question comes when we’re dealing with debilitating chronic pain, as was discussed in both the recent case reports. These are instances where people had pain that made it hard for them to function in their daily lives. Both had undergone surgery that resulted in serious nerve damage and were on heavy prescriptions for pain relieving medications.

In the case of the man who was actually the subject of a scientific case report, his operation for excessive facial flushing had resulted in extreme pain. Convention treatments, including medications and physiotherapy actually made his pain worse. That’s why he attempted cold water swimming. The plunges in cold water allowed him to get relief and exercise at the same time.

In another case, a man who was a competitive handballer had several back surgeries to combat the trauma he experienced as a result of his running. Unfortunately, the surgery caused a condition called arachnoiditis, where scar tissue presses on the nerves, causing constant pain. The man had been prescribed up to 14 doses of pain controlling medication a day. And still he experienced debilitating pain. Then he discovered that taking a dip in a natural hot spring actually reduced his pain. He could experience several hours being pain free. He’s cut his medications and is enjoying a higher quality of life.

Address Pain before Surgery Is Necessary

Although these cases seem to demonstrate success in treating major chronic pain, they seem individual and difficult to translate into care strategies for the general public. Instead, they remind us that it’s best to try to treat chronic pain using nonsurgical methods whenever possible. That way, we can avoid the risks that come along with surgery, which can, sometimes, include ongoing chronic pain.

If you are experiencing pain that you think might be related to TMJ, it’s best to seek treatment early. That way, we can avoid the need for surgery and you are less likely to develop complications.

To learn more about our noninvasive, nonsurgical approach to treating TMJ pain, please call (803) 781-9090 today for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry.