Ask a Therapist: The Pain Debate of Ice or Heat
Published on March 28, 2018
With spring comes warmer weather and with warmer weather we tend to get more active and that unfortunately at times brings on more injuries. It’s sometimes hard to know what the best approach is to healing an injury. When to apply ice or when to apply heat? Which is better for which injury? We’ve asked our therapists for their best advice.
Ice treatment is most commonly used for acute injuries where swelling is a problem such as an ankle sprain, or severe, sharp pain and inflammation, severe to moderate pain with spasms, nerve pain and acute injury. Applying an ice pack often within the first 48 hours will help minimize the swelling. Decreasing swelling around an injury will help to control the pain. Ice treatments may also be used for chronic conditions such as overuse injuries in athletes. In this case, ice the injured area after activity to help control inflammation.
Heat treatments are usually used for chronic conditions such as overuse injuries, arthritic pain (especially in the mornings with aching) and to warm up muscles before exercise for stiffness. Heat helps increase blood flow or circulation and increase tissue elasticity or flexibility to the area.
General rule of thumb: put ice on the fire=intense, sharp, acute pain & inflammation and/or immediately after an injury; and heat on the more annoying, aching, stiff pain. It can be a little bit of an experiment as not every person responds the same, but no one is an exception to the rule of ice to an immediate injury.