Ice and heat therapy are two of the most common non-invasive treatments applied for musculoskeletal injuries, such as sprained ankles or shoulder injuries. Both are fairly easy to apply and inexpensive, and can also be used for an acute injury or chronic soreness. However, people are often confused when deciding which one to use.
The use of either heat or ice is dependent on the type of injury and how soon you start the treatment after the injury has occurred.
Although it is important to check in with a health practitioner such as a Chiropractor if you suffer an injury, here are some general guidelines for using ice or heat.
When to use ICE
Ice is used as an anti-inflammatory to treat swelling that occurs with an acute injury. Swelling is the body’s natural response to injury but it compresses tissues in the area, resulting in pain. Ice is a vaso-constrictor (it causes the blood vessels to narrow) reducing the flow of fluid to the affected area and limits internal bleeding at the injury site. It also works as an analgesic acting to numb the pain.
The application of ice is commonly used in the first 24-48 hours after an injury occurs, the earlier the better. Be sure the ice pack is covered in a towel before applying to the affected area and never use ice on areas of the body with poor circulation. During the first 48 hours after an injury ice should be applied several times a day for no more than 20 minutes at a time to decrease swelling and control pain.
An example of a situation you can use ice therapy is if you sprain your ankle while jogging.
When to use HEAT
Heat is commonly used for chronic conditions, such as joint stiffness, pain or muscle spasms. Heat is used to help relax muscles and tissues, stimulate blood flow, relax spasms and soothe sore muscles. Heat is a vasocilator (it opens up blood vessels), thus supplying greater blood flow that carries oxygen and nutrients to joints and muscles. Heat also helps eliminate toxins and built-up lactic acid in the painful area.
Heat therapy consists of applying warmth to the skin via products such as a heating pad, a microwavable wheat bag, a warm towel or a hot water bottle. Another way to use heat to ease pain is by taking a hot bath or shower.
Do not apply a heat treatment immediately after experiencing an injury as this will likely do more harm than good. Your body is already naturally increasing blood flow to the area. Do not apply a heat treatment for more than 20 minutes at a time and never apply heat while sleeping.
It is important to always cover the ice or heat pack with a towel or cloth so that it does not directly touch the skin as this could result in burning of your skin.
While using ice and heat packs on an injured area can help reduce pain and enhance the healing process it is important to have your injury examined and diagnosed correctly by our Chiropractor.
If you have further questions simply contact us at Body Care Health & Chiropractic.