To Ice or To Heat?

Often when we are in pain our first response is to take action, but sometimes knowing what action to take isn’t as simple as it may seem. Understanding when to ice your injury or pain-stricken area, and when to apply heat is critical to the healing process.

But if you are wondering which is right and which is wrong, the answer is neither — and both. The general rule is to apply ice directly after injuring yourself, to stop inflammation, and heat to encourage circulation to help you to get those muscles moving again.

Though using heat may feel great when you are dealing with a new pain, if the injury is less than 48 hours old, stick with the ice. Icing an injury will decrease the swelling, and numb the affected area, leaving you in less pain.

If you are dealing with an injury that has been around for a while, a heating regimen may be the best fit for you. Here are some tips that will help you to utilize heat and ice correctly, and to know if you should use both:

Ice a new injury. We said it before, and we will say it again. Always use ice when dealing with a new injury. It is critical to reduce inflammation by reducing circulation with the onset of a new injury.

Protect your skin. Though your muscular pain may be your biggest concern, don’t forget to protect your skin when you are beginning a heating or icing regimen. Make sure to place a barrier between your sin and the ice or heating element. This will prevent burning or frostbite.

Use heat to promote healing. Applying heat will reduce muscle spasms, help to relax the muscles, and increase circulation 72 hours or more after an injury.

Use a timer. With both heating and icing regimens it is important to make sure you are not overwhelming your muscles, as this could result in greater injury in the long run. When you are icing, you should ice for no longer then 10-15 minutes at a time, and then wait at least 30 minutes before icing again. With heat, you can apply a heating element for 30 minutes at a time, on a low setting, then wait and hour before applying again.

Should you heat and ice? The use of both heat and ice is most commonly seen with athletes who are looking to dramatically reduce inflammation by shocking the blood vessels. Unless you are a star athlete, you will want to steer clear of this type of circulatory shock.

What about icing an old injury that is flaring up? If you have an old injury that flares up after being re-injured it is ok to ice it for the first 48 hours, but never use ice and heat in the same 24-hour block, as it will shock your muscles and intervene with the healing process.

Regardless of your injury type, you should always consult a doctor before beginning a pain management regimen.


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