Do I use heat or ice for my injury?

Should I use heat or ice for…?

It’s one of the most common questions I’m asked in the office at Physio Dee Why or out and about at sports events on the Northern Beaches.

Ever since the invention of the frozen bag of peas, most people have wondered whether heat or cold would help ease their pain for a number of injuries and ailments. You might have even tried both in an effort to scientifically prove which one is the best.

Knowing the benefits of heat and cold for injuries, along with understanding the proper duration for each can help you manage your injury from the outset and speed up your recovery in the process.

How do ice and heat therapy work?

Using ice on an injury works by lowering the local temperature of the surrounding tissue, resulting in decreased blood flow, nerve activity and swelling.  Ice can also make your pain worse if your body is already cold, causing muscles to tighten and contract more, rather than relaxing and easing the tightness that’s causing the pain.

Whereas heat raises the local temperature of the surrounding tissue; increasing blood flow to the area, metabolic rate and muscle elasticity. Because muscle tension can spiral into many other problems, including headaches, which cause more pain; so many people swear by a relaxing hot bath or a stint in a sauna to improve their overall health and well-being.

So, heat therapy works to relax injured muscles, heal damaged tissues and improve flexibility and ice temporarily reduces nerve activity, reduces swelling, bruising and slows circulation to the affected area.

Because they work so differently, it’s important to see why both treatments need to be used properly. For instance, heat does not go well with swelling. Using heat therapy when you are hot and have a new swollen injury is a recipe for more pain. Crack out the ice pack instead.

When should I use ice on an injury?

  • Musculoskeletal trauma
  • Tendonitis
  • Acute or chronic pain
  • Acute inflammation
  • Bursitis
  • Muscle spasms

When should I use heat?

  • Decreased range of motion
  • Muscle guarding
  • Muscle spasms
  • Myofascial trigger points
  • Subacute or chronic pain
  • Chronic inflammatory conditions

After looking at the benefits of using ice and heat for injuries and how each works, as a general rule:

  • If the injury is new or has occurred within the last few days – Ice it
  • If there is noticeable swelling with your pain – Ice it
  • If you have decreased range of motion with no swelling – Use heat
  • If you have muscle tightness, spasms, or trouble relaxing – Useheat
  • If you have had chronic pain with no range of motion loss and significant swelling – Ice it first, then use heat

Heat and cold therapies are excellent ways to ease pain and relax muscles. However, neither is a substitute for an expert physio.

If you find yourself relying on ice or heat over a long period without decreases in your pain levels, consult with your Fixio physio for more in depth and permanent treatment options.

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