The use of ice and heat are cheap self-treatment techniques to reduce pain with minimal side effects and risks. This article is going to give you basic facts on when it is best to use ice or heat to reduce pain and/or swelling. Use of ice and heat are the top two most common forms of quick pain-relief techniques for muscle and joint pain. The decision between ice and heat is made depending on whether your pain is new or recurring. In general, ice is for new injuries to treat inflammation and swelling. Ice decreases the blood flow to the site of your injury, thereby reducing inflammation and swelling. Pain that lasts for weeks can be treated with heat, which brings blood to the area to promote healing.
The information below can help you figure out when and how to use these inexpensive temperature-related techniques.
Heat works by opening up and dilating blood vessels to increase blood flow which supplies oxygen and nutrients to reduce joint, muscle, tendon and ligament pain. Warming up of muscles brings a relaxation effect that decreases muscle spasms and improves flexibility and joint motion. Applying superficial heat to your body can improve the flexibility of tendons and ligaments, reduce muscle spasms, and alleviate pain.
How to use Heat
Heat can be applied by using either either dry or moist warmth. With repeated uses, dry heat may dry your skin. Moist heat has been shown to penetrate better into the skin. Sources of heat can be applied by an electric or microwavable heating pad, hot water bottle, gel packs, or hot water baths. The heat should be warm, not too hot, and should be maintained at a consistent temperature, if possible. Ask your doctor or physical therapist which heat source would be best for you.
When to use Heat
Apply heat when you have are experiencing chronic muscle and/or joint pain. Heat also works well on stiff joints that are affected by arthritis.
How to use Heat Safely
Always wrap a thin towel over a hot device such as a hot pack to reduce potential risk of burning your skin.
Avoid using heat for longer than 20 minutes, unless advised by your doctor or physical therapist.
Be cautious when using heat if you have poor circulation or diabetes.
Avoid lying down on a heating pad because you can burn your skin if you fall asleep.
Do not use heat on an open wound or stitches.
ICE THERAPY (aka Cryotherapy)
Cold and ice slow down and constrict blood flow to an injury which reduce swelling and pain associated to swelling. Cryotherapy can be used to reduce inflammation, muscle spasm, and pain. Examples: a new case of freshly pulled muscle, rotator cuff muscle or achilles tendonitis.
How to use Ice
Cryotherapy treatment is most commonly delivered using ice, cold packs or a bag of frozen peas.
When to use Ice
Use of ice is ideally used for the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury. Ice therapy is good for sprains, strains and bruises that may occur in sports, falls, or just bumping into things.
How to use Ice Safely
Use cold packs or ice bags to injured areas for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Then remove the ice for 10 minutes and reapply it again for 10-20 minutes until the area is feeling better.
Do not apply ice for longer than 20 minutes. Also, wrap ice or ice packs in a thin towel before applying.
PLEASE NOTE: If you are unsure when is best to use heat or ice to an injury, call your health care provider’s office.