When to heat and when to ice?

When a patient comes in the clinic for treatment, almost 100% of the time they want to know what they can do to help. Most of the time the question I am asked is “Do I use ice or do I use heat?” I am going to clear this up to help you decide which one to use.

The simplest way to think about ice is: Ice is for Injuries. When we get an injury the body starts an inflammatory process in which the body begins attacking the cells in the injury to make sure it can protect the body from further injury or infection.  Although in the bodies haste to protect the body it can go over board and this is what causes the swelling.  With icing an injury, the cold causes our blood vessel to constrict and slow down blood to the injury.  This slows down swelling and inflammation and can help with pain relief. 

Ice is best to use within the first 24-72 hours of the injury and can help decrease the damage of the injury.  It is also best to use ice for headaches, bumps, sprains, strains and burns.  Ice can also be help for treating overuse injuries in athletes.  But when in doubt, use with ice. 

Tips for using Ice:

  • Never more than 20 min at a time
  • Wait 1 hour between treatments
  • Always have a layer between the ice or ice pack and your skin, you don’t want to get frost bite.

Heat is also great for treating patients although more often heat is going to be used after 72 hours or when the injury is chronic. Heat is especially good for sore muscles.  Opposite to the cold, which slows the blood flow down, heat opens up your blood vessels up allowing more blood and nutrients to flow and relaxes the muscles. The increased blow flow to the area will help promote the healing process and get the tissue to heal properly. 

Heat can also help with pain relief.  Sore muscles and joints respond really well to heat, and a little heat in the morning can help you get your stiff body moving.  When using heat, I prefer to recommend using moist heat like a hot water bottle or a warmed wet towel over an electric heating pad.  Moist heat has getting deeper into the tissue and provide more benefits than dry heat.

Tips for using Heat:

  • Never use for more than 20 min, you don’t want to burn yourself
  • Wait 1 hour between treatments
  • Avoid laying on heat or falling asleep on a heating pack as it can cause burns
  • Never apply heat directly to the skin, use a towel layer between the heat source and your skin
  • DON’T USE heat if you have poor circulation or sensation in the area

If you have any questions, book an appointment today with me Dr. Alex Coulson at Core Optimum Health and I can help you out.