With summer now in full swing, 4th of July coming up, and everyone going outside, biking, playing, and being outdoor “weekend warriors”, we thought this would be a great time to feature this article. When to use heat or ice is extremely important because if you use them at the wrong time they can actually do more harm than good. Here’s the “skinny” ————
The first general rule is to ICE AN ACUTE INJURY and HEAT A CHRONIC INJURY. When you are first injured, your body’s natural response is swelling and inflammation. Your blood vessels expand in order to rush more blood to the area to begin to immediately start the healing process. You DO NOT want to use heat at this time. Heat will only cause even more swelling and inflammation — and more pain. You want to use ICE within the first 24 hours of an injury. Ice allows the blood vessels to contract, reducing inflammation and bringing down the swelling, in addition to relieving pain by calming irritated nerves. Never apply ice directly to the skin, as it could cause frostbite – yes, really. Ice or cold packs should be wrapped in a damp wash cloth or towel, or just use a bag of frozen peas – again, really. Apply for 10 to 20 minutes every two hours during the first 72 hours.
HEAT is most useful for chronic injury/conditions, as it increases blood flow. Heat should NOT be used immediately after an injury, as it may ultimately increase pain and swelling. Sitting in a tub of hot water may feel good, however, the next day you will likely feel more pain and stiffness due to the increased inflammation it has caused. Apply heat beginning 72 hours after an injury, and make it MOIST heat, as this is most ideal for healing. Either apply a warm, wet towel or submerge yourself in a tub for 10 to 30 minutes two to five times a day. Warm rather than hot should be used to avoid the risk of burns, and heat should NEVER be applied for an extended period of time or when you are sleeping. Heat is also useful in cases of chronic injury, such as overuse injuries in athletes, shoulder impingement syndrome, bursitis and tendonitis.