When you are injured, there is usually a lot of confusion around whether you should use ice or heat to aid the recovery. This age-old question can be answered by taking two things into consideration; whether the injury is acute or chronic, and when the treatment is taking place.
So… lets look a little deeper. What are chronic and acute injuries?
Acute injuries tend to have happened within the last 48 hours. They normally happen from sudden trauma, such as a twist, fall, or tackle. An acute injury will normally present with some of these symptoms:
Whereas, chronic injuries usually develop overtime rather than suddenly. Such as an overuse injury, or an acute injury that hasn’t fully healed. A chronic injury can present with some of these symptoms:
○Swelling when aggravated
What does ice do to the body? So when should I use it?
Cold therapy slows down the blood flow (vasoconstriction) to an injury, which is turn helps to reduce swelling and therefore pain.
Ice should be used immediately after an injury, or after activity that aggravates a chronic injury. Although swelling is a natural process in healing, too much swelling can cause pressure on the joint/muscle and cause pain.
What does heat do to the body? So when should I use it?
Heat therapy opens up blood vessels (vasodilation) which increases blood flow, relaxing muscles and reducing pain.
Use a hot towel or heat pad to warm up stiff muscles and relax a pre-existing injury before a workout. This will help to increase the flexibility and stimulate blood flow, to prevent injury or any further damage to a chronic injury.
Heat can be used to help relieve pain from stiff and tight muscles, along with chronic pain such as tension headaches. Always wait at least 48-72 hours after an acute injury, or after re-aggravating a chronic injury. This ensures the swelling has gone before using heat treatment.
What safety concerns are there when using ice and heat?
Both ice and heat have potential to cause minor damage if used incorrectly. Heat can increase swelling and ice can worsen tightness in muscles.
Ice or heat shouldn’t be applied for more than 20 minutes at a time, waiting an hour between treatments.
Neither should be placed directly onto the skin to avoid ice/heat burns.
If there is swelling or bruising in the affected area, never use heat treatment. Also if you have neurological problems in that area (i.e. pins and needles, numbness etc)
Does that answer your questions?
If you are still unsure what to do with a particular issue or injury you are suffering with, feel free to get in touch. We are always more than happy to help!