Heat Or Ice?

What should I use, a Heating pad or a Cold pack?

When it comes to treating injuries, people are generally confused between using heat or ice! You can consider that both of these are cheap, safe, easy, and effective self- treatment options available.   

The tricky part is knowing which one to use and when? 

Sometimes using both hot and cold at the same treatment session can be very effective too. This article is going to help you to understand when to use ice and when to use heat!

As a rule of thumb, Ice is applied for acute injuries.   Acute injuries are the result of any trauma, fall, collision, or a strain that has just happened.   It usually   lasts for 48- 72 hours. Signs and symptoms may include pain, swelling, warmth, redness and tender to the touch.   Ice is used in such cases to calm down the superficial tissue that is inflamed. This inflammatory process is natural and necessary for healing, but it is also very painful one.   Icing such inflamed tissue is a mild, natural way to reduce the pain and make the inflammation manageable.

Heat is mostly effective for more longer term conditions like muscle stiffness, chronic pain and stress.  Chronic injuries are resultant of overusing or when acute injuries are not healing properly. This results in frequent bouts of pain. Signs and symptoms may include pain, stiffness, and tightness.   Heat has the exact opposite effect of ice on the injured area. Heat allows increasing the blood supply to the area which in turn helps to relax the muscle and also helps the healing process. 

Athletes or any person who is active with a chronic injury and has re-occurring pain should apply heat before their training to warm up the tissue and increase the flexibility and ice after the training is complete.   Ice can also help to control the swelling and pain.

To summarize:

Use ice for acute injury. Make sure not to apply ice directly on the skin.   Always have a thin damp towel as a barrier. Use a gel ice pack as it is easy to use. Do not ice for more than 15-20 mins.   Wait at least an hour before you reapply to make sure that the skin goes back to normal.

Use heat for chronic injury or any muscle stiffness. Apply using the heat pad or hot water bottle.  Do not apply heat for more than 15-20mins. Never apply heat and go to sleep.  Also be careful to not burn yourself.   

It is important to use caution and avoid using heat/ice on areas of skin where there is decreased or a lack of sensation.  We want to avoid any risk of burning or frostbite!

Some people just hate using ice packs (or hot packs) altogether.  If you don’t like using ice, it’s okay to make heat your go-to self treatment option.   If you have any more questions about using ice or heat for your particular condition, email us at:  altimaphysio@gmail.com and we can dig a little deeper into your situation to help you out!