HEAT vs ICE: When hurt what is best?

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If you’re anything like a lot of our patients, you probably don’t know which injuries need heat and which need ice. If you do know (kudos to you), you may not know the reasoning behind why one is better than the other. Today, we’re going to discuss when it’s better to use ice or heat, and how to do so properly.

Should I Use Ice or Heat?

We get asked this question often! Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of one being superior to the other. The answer simply depends on what your symptoms are.

General Guidelines:

You should use ICE for areas that are swollen, have had recent surgery, or are sore following a workout or injury. Ice is helpful for most types of pain, but it can make stiff joints feel worse!

You should use HEAT on your stiff joints or on tight muscles. Heat should not be used for recent injuries, however, as it can increase inflammation and delay healing!

Specific Recommendations:

ARTHRITIS: Heat will help loosen your stiff joints. It also relaxes tight muscles.

HEADACHES: Heat will help relax tight muscles in your neck. Ice can decrease the throbbing pain of a migraine.

MUSCLE STRAINS & JOINT SPRAINS: Ice helps to decrease swelling, inflammation, and pain. Heat relaxes stiff muscles and decreases stiffness, but you should only use it after the inflammation has decreased, which usually takes 2-3 days!

TENDINITIS: Ice helps to decrease pain and inflammation.

How Long Should I Use Ice or Heat?

Typically, 15-20 minutes with ice or heat is effective. Be sure to check your skin every 5 minutes to monitor skin condition. It’s best to use a towel between your skin and the hot/cold pack. This will protect your skin from extreme temperatures.

How Does it Work?

The use of heat stimulates blood flow, which relaxes tight muscles and decreases pain. The use of ice constricts blood vessels, which decreases pain and inflammation. It also slows the conduction of nerves to help decrease pain. The use of a cold pack after surgery slows the bleeding and decreases swelling.

How Can I Use Ice or Heat at Home?

If you’re needing heat, you can soak in a warm bathtub or hot tub. You can also soak your hands or feet in warm water. Additionally, there’s the option of using a heating pad or microwaving a rice or corn bag. For hand or foot pain, we recommend microwaving a bowl of dried rice or lentils and then putting your hands or feet in it. This works well!

If you’re needing ice, you can use a frozen gel pack or a frozen bag of corn or peas. Particularly good for hand and foot pain, a frozen bottle of water works great! Headaches can be treated by using a rice or corn bag that’s been refrigerated.

We currently have some handmade rice bags, here at Impact Rehab & Wellness, so feel free to stop by and get one to help with your pain. They can be used as either a hot or cold pack.

As always, if you have any additional questions just give us a call at 918-756-3330.

Heat vs Ice: Use heat on joints that are stiff and tight muscles. Don't use heat on recent injuries. Use ice on areas that are swollen and on sore muscles following an injury or workout. Don't use ice on stiff joints.

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