“Ice vs Heat”. Which one is right?

By · Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Ice vs Heat Which One Is Right?

Houston Chiropractor Comments: A common question I get in my clinic is “When do I use heat and when do I use ice?” Unfortunately this question is usually asked after they have already done the wrong one. The patient has usually relied on old information that has been passed down from grandma or what they remember their coach saying 20 years ago.

To understand which one to use, you need to understand the basic physiology of what you are trying to do. Cold therapy with ice is the best immediate treatment for acute injuries because it reduces swelling and pain. Ice is a vasoconstrictor (it causes the blood vessels to narrow) and it limits internal bleeding and swelling at the injury site. Apply ice (wrapped in a thin towel for comfort) to the affected area for 20 minutes at a time. Allow the skin temperature to return to normal before icing a second or third time (about 40 minutes). You can ice an acute injury every hour. It does not matter if the injury was 24 or 48 or 72 hours before, if there is swelling and pain, use ice.

Cold therapy is also helpful in treating some overuse injuries or chronic pain in athletes. An athlete who has chronic back pain or neck pain that increases after exercising may want to ice the injured area after exercise to reduce or prevent inflammation. It’s not helpful to ice a chronic injury before exercise.

The best way to ice an injury is with a high quality ice pack that conforms to the body part being iced. You can also get good results from a bag of frozen peas, an ice massage with water frozen in a paper cup (peel the cup down as the ice melts) or a bag of ice.

Heat is a vasodilator (it causes the blood vessels to get larger) which increases circulation to the area. Heat is generally used for chronic injuries or injuries that have no inflammation or swelling. Sore, stiff, achy muscle or joint pain is ideal for the use of heat therapy. Athletes with chronic pain or injuries may use heat therapy before exercise to increase the elasticity of joint connective tissues and to stimulate blood flow. Heat can also help relax tight muscles or muscle spasms. Don’t apply heat after exercise. Ice vs Heat, after a workout ice is the better choice on a chronic injury.

Because heat increases circulation and raises skin temperature, you should not apply heat to acute injuries or injuries that show signs of inflammation or redness. Safely apply heat to an injury 20 minutes at a time and use enough layers between your skin and the heating source to prevent burns. Leave the heat off for at least 40 minutes before using it again.

Moist heat is best, so you could try using a hot wet towel. You can also use heat producing lotions. I recommend Biofreeze to my patients. Never leave heating pads on for more than 20 minutes at a time or while sleeping to prevent burning.

Ice vs Heat

Ice vs Heat

Because some injuries can be serious, you should see your chiropractor of Houton TX if your injury does not improve (or gets worse) within 48 hours. If no improvement is made you should seek out Houston rehabilitation.

Dr. Ward Beecher practices at his Houston Chiropractic Clinic at 1001 Pineloch, Ste 700 Houston, TX 77062. You can schedule an appointment at BeecherChiropractic.com or by calling (281) 286-1300. If you have any questions regarding this blog, please comment below!

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