My patients often wonder and ask me whether to use heat or cold after they feel pain. My general rule of thumb is to think about what each is designed to do.
ICE is usually used to reduce inflammation, which includes redness, swelling, pain, heat, and/or loss of movement . Applying ice to the affected area will help eliminate or at least relieve these signs and symptoms. Generally ice is the best to use in case of any acute injury such as a ligament/muscle strain or sprain. It’s best to apply an ice pack for the first 48 hours after an injury occurs. It’s best not to apply ice directly onto the skin but to use an ice pack or ice placed in a plastic bag with a thin towel wrapped around it. Apply the ice pack for at least 20 minutes to injured area and remove for 20 minutes – alternate on and off for about an hour or so for at least a day or two.
HEAT is best used on a chronic (on-going pain that has been there for awhile) injury. Heat helps to increase circulation in the muscles and is best used on tight, cramping or spasming muscles. A hot pack, heating pad and hot water bottle are just a few examples of what can be used.
Sometimes if there is a soft tissue injury, you may alternate between heat and ice. The ice will aid in reducing the pain while the heat will help with increasing the range of motion. Like with any treatment, there may be contraindications (a symptom or condition that makes a particular treatment or procedure inadvisable) so it’s always best to ask a health care professional on what they advise to use. I always tell my patients if it makes it feel better, you’re probably using the right thing!