To Heat or to Ice, that is the Question
You’ve injured yourself in some way, shape or form. You’re sore. You’re achy. You’re taking it upon yourself to take care of yourself at home, as you should. But is it better to use ice or to use heat? Let me break it down for you.
Ice – Ice is designed to reduce inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s response to injury. It is an influx of chemicals and cells that are trying to heal the area. Short term inflammation is an appropriate response to an injury. Long term inflammation means damage, disease and illness. When we ice an area that has recently been damaged, it temporarily numbs the nerves which relieve pain. An ice pack or frozen peas should be used on an injured area for no longer than 15 minutes at a time. We don’t want frost bite! After the ice is removed, the body warms the area again. This change from cold to warm creates a bit of a pumping action, allowing the body to send in more healing chemicals. You don’t need to alternative heat and ice because your body is already doing the heating part. Using heat on a recently injured area may aggravate symptoms. There should be a minimum of two hours between each icing session.
Heat – Heating an area of discomfort increases blood flow and can relax muscles. Chronic pain often feels better when treated with heat. Don’t overdo heat as it can cause burning or exacerbate swelling. Heat an area for no more than 30 minutes at a time no more than twice a day.
If you dig deep enough, you can find research that both supports and negates each therapy. Hopefully these explanations of use can help you decide which direction you want to go for pain relief.
My two general rules are:
Acute or new injury, use ice. Chronic, old or nagging issue, use heat.
One modality will probably feel better than the other. Trust your gut and use whichever feels best.