It’s common to grab a bag of peas or a heating pad when we have an ache or pain. The question is, should you be using ice or heat to treat your injury?
Here are a few tips to help you determine which is the right solution, and how to use them appropriately.
Cold packs are typically the safer choice for an injury. They come in the form of a bag of frozen vegetables, ice cubes in a zip lock or Dixie cup, an ice towel, or purchased at any store.
Cold packs are best used for acute injuries, such as a sprain, or chronic injuries, such as tendonitis, to help control inflammation. The cold temperatures help numb the area to reduce pain, and more importantly, constricts the blood vessels to reduce blood flow and bring the swelling down. This will also help slow down cellular functions in the area which can help prevent further tissue damage.
Apply a cold pack for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Too much cold can in fact be harmful. Repeat this every 1-3 hours for 24 to 48 hours. After 48 hours, the aim of treatment changes from restricting swelling and bleeding to re-moblizing the tissue.
Heating pads or heat packs can also be purchased at a local drug store. A very warm facecloth or towel works too. Be sure not to apply a heating pad directly to the skin. Place a cloth or towel between the heat pack and the injured area.
Heating pads are most useful when dealing with muscle pain, chronic conditions such as arthritis, or injuries older than 48 hours. Heat dilates the blood vessels bringing more blood to the area to stimulate healing. Heat will reduce swelling and relieve pain, but is typically used to reduced stiffness and prevent muscle spasms.
Heat should not be used after physical activity, and definitely not after an acute injury, but can be helpful when used before a a period of activity. It is not necessary to use heat for more than 20 minutes at a time, but longer than that isn’t harmful.
A combination of cold packs and heat packs to treat an injury is beneficial depending on the type of injury and how long it’s been going on.