One of the most frequently asked questions in my clinic is "Should I use heat or Ice?" Depending on the situation they can both be useful. Here are some suggested guidelines on when and how to use ice or heat.
Ice is used on any recent injury (ie sports injury, fall, whip lash, exacerbation of old injury) that has resulted in acute inflammation; signs of acute inflammation are swelling, redness and a change of temperature in the skin.
Ice is best for immediate treatment of an injury as it helps to reduce the inflammation and pain by constriction of the blood vessels.
- Never put Ice or cold packs directly onto the skin, this may cause frost bite, wrap in a thin cloth or towel.
- Rub an ice cube over the effective area until it has completely dissolved.
- Soak a thin wash cloth in water, wring it out and place it over the affected area place a bag of frozen vegetables or ice over the area. An ace bandage may be applied to hold it in place
- If after 5 – 10 minutes ice causes more pain, discontinue and call your physician
- Do not ice longer than 20 minutes at a time.
Heat is generally used for chronic injuries, injuries that have no inflammation. Chronic injuries are those that develop over time and are commonly referred to as overuse injuries. Heat promotes muscle relaxation so is ideal for sore, stiff nagging muscle or joint pain.
Heat acts in the opposite of ice, it opens up the blood vessels stimulating blood flow.
- Heat should not be applied after exercise, ice would be best on a chronic injury after a workout.
- Moist heat is best. Place a wet well wrung towel, place it in the microwave for a couple of minutes and apply to effective area.
- Use an electric heating pad, place a few layers between your skin and the heating pad to avoid burning.
- Do not use for longer than 20 minutes, and don't apply while sleeping.
Because some injuries can be serious you should consult your doctor.