Which is Better for an Injury: Ice or Heat?

Ever wondered whether to use ice or heat for your sore muscles, your healing fracture, or any injury? Both ice and heat have been commonly used to treat an array of injuries, but when to use either one is critical in preventing further damage and promoting faster recovery.


Acute irritation or inflammation of a muscle, ligament, or tendon is typically treated with ice. The cold application reduces inflammation and numbs the pain, especially when the superficial tissues are red, hot, and swollen. The inflammatory response associated with damage to tissues is a defence mechanism in the human body that lasts for the first several days to protect against infection. The response involves immediate changes to blood flow, increased permeability of blood vessels, and flow of white blood cells to the affected site.

ICE APPLICATION

Ice can be used for gout flare-ups, headaches, sprains, and strains. It is crucial to apply ice to the site of injury during the first 48 hours post-injury to minimize swelling. For soft tissue injuries such as muscle strains or ligament sprains, an ice massage involving elevation of the injured body part above the heart and circular movement of an ice pack around the affected area may promote faster recovery of these acute injuries. Apply for 10 minutes at a time, then take a break from icing for another 10 minutes. Repeat this process 3 to 5 times a day. Remember to wrap the ice pack in a dry cloth or towel.

HEAT APPLICATION

Heat can also be used for headaches, sprains, and strains as well as arthritis or tendinosis. Heat causes blood vessels to dilate which increases blood flow and relaxes tight or stiff muscles and joints. Do not use heat during the initial inflammatory response as this will further aggravate the site of injury. For minor injuries, applying heat for 15 to 20 minutes at a time may be sufficient to relieve tension. However, longer periods of heat application such as 30 minutes to an hour may be required for major chronic injuries. Hot baths, steamed towels, or moist heating packs can be used as different heat options.

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