When you are dealing with an injury that is causing you serious discomfort, chances are, the only thing you can think about doing is getting out of pain. Both heat and ice are a great way to naturally help alleviate pain, soreness and stiffness. But when is it time to use heat and when is it time to use ice?
The answer isn’t always so simple.
It all comes down to the type of injury you are dealing with. There are certain situations where ice is going to be your best choice, and other situations where heat will be more beneficial. However, no matter what treatment you are planning on using, you should never plan on using either for more than 15-20 minutes at a time.
Heating and icing sessions should be brief, but frequent, for you to get the best results possible.
When to Use Ice
When in doubt, ice is typically the better choice when treating an injury. A great rule of thumb with ice is that it always a great option during the first 72 hours after an injury. Ice helps to reduce swelling, which can cause pain.
There are a few different ways you can use ice to help with pain and swelling. In general, an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables is the simplest and easiest way to apply ice. You can also put loose ice directly in a bag and wrap it with a cold washcloth for application. Direct exposure to ice is OK, as long as you keep your exposure time to around 15 minutes.
If you are dealing with an injury to your ankle, foot, or hands and fingers, completely submerging the injured area is always the best choice. Fill a tub or bucket with ice water and submerge the injured area for 15 minutes at a time.
Whenever you visit us here at McAuliffe Chiropractic, we always send you home with an ice pack to help with your immediate pain relief. We believe it is important to have an ice pack on hand at all times in the event that you have an acute injury. This is particularly important for our chiropractic patients who come in with whiplash injuries following a car accident.
During those first 72 hours after an injury, you should try to ice as often as possible. So, aim for once every few hours until you notice the pain and swelling subsiding. Consistency is key when it comes to getting the most out of icing, particularly in those imperative first few days after an injury.
When to Use Heat
While heat and ice can both provide relief, heat is actually the exact opposite effect on the body as ice. Heat causes small blood vessels to open up which can help stimulate inflammation, instead of providing relief, as ice does.
So, when should you use heat?
Heat is more appropriate to treat chronic conditions. Heat can help relax and loosen tissues and stimulate blood flow to the injured or painful area. For example, if you twist your ankle while exercising, you would apply ice right away. In situations like this, when you are dealing with a new, acute injury, heat could actually cause your swelling to worsen.
However, if you have an old achy back muscle from a previous injury, heat may be more appropriate. Heat is also a great option for issues like stomach cramps where you want to help release tight or tense muscles. This is also why some people use heat before they are about to exercise or do physical therapy.
There are a few different ways that you can apply heat. Hot water bottles and electric heating pads are common heat sources. However, if you don’t have access to either of these, you can get relief with a hot, wet towel as well.
If you ever have questions about heat, ice or other pain relief treatments you can apply at home, always ask your health care provider first. The doctors here at McAuliffe Chiropractic are always available to help with all of your injury-related questions. If you pain still persists, always make an appointment with one of our doctors before aggravating your injury further. You can always make an appointment online or call us directly at 301-776-0755.