Which to Use When: Ice or Heat?
Knee pain after running? Wake up with a backache? Twist an ankle?
When aches, pain, strains or swelling take place due to an injury or chronic condition, what is the best course of action: ice or heat? Many people automatically assume heat will ease their discomfort. Think again.
Ice and heat have opposite effects when dealing with inflammation and pain. Both are useful when applied at the correct stage of an injury. Ice constricts blood vessels and decreases blood flow to an injured area, therefore reducing inflammation. It also numbs pain. Heat increases local blood circulation and relaxes tight muscles. When is it appropriate to use each?
The Acute Injury Stage:
Immediately after an injury occurs, inflammation and swelling takes place due to damaged soft tissues and broken blood vessels which leak blood into the affected area. This is considered the acute stage of an injury and lasts about 48 to 72 hours. Pain, stiffness, bruising and tissue tenderness are symptoms of the acute stage. Ice should always be used immediately following an injury because it constricts blood vessels, which will lessen swelling, as well as numb pain and control bleeding. Apply ice no more than 20 minutes at a time. Always protect skin from tissue damage by using a cover over the ice pack. Allow the skin to return to normal temperature before reapplying ice. Heat should not be used during the acute stage. It will increase blood leakage, which increases swelling and possibly pain. Most professionals agree that icing an acute injury will facilitate healing. Applying heat may actually slow healing during the first 72 hours after an injury takes place.