Heat Or Ice?
“Aaargh! Now I’ve Done It! Now What Do I Do?”
It’s a common question with an easy answer. The rule of thumb is: if it is a new injury (up to three days old) and/or is associated with sharp, shooting pain, use ice; if it is an older injury (three days and older) and/or is associated with dull, achey stiffness use heat.
What’s The Difference?
The coldness of the ice will cause the blood vessels in the area to contract restricting blood flow to that area. Inflammation is a huge factor in the initial stages of injury and healing and, consequently, a big source of pain. Restricting the blood flow to an area briefly will help decrease the amount of inflammatory chemicals reaching that area. This gives pain relief and decreases the redness, heat, swelling and loss of function which are the hallmarks of inflammation.
Conversely, applying heat will open the blood vessels in the area which will increase the amount of blood flow in that area. This is important in the case of older injuries because we want to increase the amount of nutrients and oxygen available to the tissue for healing and flush out the lactic acid and other metabolites to allow the muscles in the area to relax and move through their normal ranges of motion again.
The general recommendation is 20 minutes on, 40 minutes off and repeat as necessary until you achieve the relief you need. Never apply ice or heat directly to the skin. Always wrap the bag of frozen peas, Ziploc bag of ice cubes, hot water bottle, magic bag, microwaved sock full of uncooked rice – whatever, in a tea towel first.
This advice is meant to help control the symptoms of your discomfort. Don’t forget to consult your chiropractor, massage therapist, and/or acupuncturist to have the injury assessed and treated properly. These instructions may not be appropriate for injuries involving soft tissue tears and fractures so when in doubt, consult your healthcare practitioner.