To Ice or to Heat //That is the question!

Working in a chiropractic office, I see lots of different types of injuries with my patients whether brought on by sports or everyday activities. The most common question I get from a patient following an injury is whether to use ice or heat. Often times, they will come in with an injury that happened over the weekend and were for example they were using heat when ice should have been applied instead. It may not seem like a big deal, but can make a huge difference in the healing process. The best way to understand whether heat or ice should be used is to understand how your body reacts to an injury. Knowing the difference between an acute injury and a chronic condition helps determine what will be the best course of treatment.

An acute injury is one that just recently happened and is usually short term. Some examples include ankle sprain, back strain, pain after extreme exercising, and other joint sprains. These often involve tissue and blood vessel damage. Because of this damage, inflammation or swelling usually occurs. Applying something cold like ice, causes the blood vessels to constrict or get smaller which will decrease swelling. Heat on the other hand causes blood vessels to dilate or get bigger, which would increase swelling. People tend to use heat initially because it feels soothing to the injury as opposed to ice, which can be uncomfortable for a while.


Tips for Icing

With any injury, it is important to respond quickly and take action. The faster you get ice on the area, the less inflammation is likely to occur which will result in a quicker healing time. When icing, it is important to remember not to put the ice directly on the skin and limit to 20-minute increments. Leaving ice on too long or putting it directly on the skin can cause skin irritation and possible tissue damage. Always have a cloth or towel between your skin and the ice. With an acute injury, you will want to continue to ice for 24-48 hours following the injury as this is when most of the swelling will occur. An easy way to remember when to use ice is if it is swelling, ice is your best bet.


Tips for Heat

Chronic conditions are those injuries or problems that have been present for a while and have not fully healed. Some chronic conditions include arthritis, stiff joints, and old joint sprains most commonly being ankle sprains. Heat allows our muscles to relax and this is why it has a soothing affect unlike ice. Heat also increases circulation and tissue elasticity, which provides pain relief. Heat can be applied with a hot towel, heat pack, or hot shower. As mentioned with applying ice, precautions need to be taken with heat. Heat should be done in 20-minute increments and never directly on the skin.

If you have a new injury or experiencing pain from an old injury and are in doubt, contact your doctor with questions.



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