One of the most common questions asked of a chiropractor is “Should I be putting ice or heat on my injury?” So we have put together some guidelines of when it is appropriate to use ice or heat in reducing pain from an injury.
There is no standard answer as it depends on how long the inflammation has been present, how long the is inflamed, the client’s age and if swelling is present. What we can say from observation and experience is that heat is often applied at the wrong time and when joints are too inflamed to be having more heat applied to them.
Benefits of Ice
Ice decreases pain, swelling and bleeding. Use following an acute injury when swelling and bruising is present and when inflammation and muscle spasms are present. Whenever you experience swelling, redness or sharp / stabbing pain it is generally considered best to apply ice.
Ice should be applied over the inflamed area in the acute or early stages of your problem. Place ice cubes in a plastic bag or use a professionally prepared ice pack. Place a damp face washer or tea towel over the problem area then place the ice pack on the material covering.
Use 10 minutes on then 10 minutes off, at least 3 times. Keep alternating. Repeat until symptoms ease – usually for 24 – 48 hours. Following this you should alternate with ice and heat. Heat is an effective therapy for reducing muscular tension and pain and is best used AFTER the initial inflammation has subsided. If in doubt, contact your Chiropractor.
Benefits of Heat
Heat therapy stimulates vasodilation, the enlarging of blood vessels to bring more blood to an injured area, thereby encouraging healing and repair while relaxing the soft tissues. Heat has a pain reducing quality.
- Heat is generally sedating because of its ability to lower the transmission of pain signals and ease tense muscles.
- Heat enlarges blood vessels around a painful area, adding oxygen and nutrient flow to the muscles which helps heal damaged tissue.
- Heat also decreases stiffness and increases flexibility which is most important in a healthy back to help you regain your quality of life.
Be careful to avoid burns, especially when using microwaves to heat up wheat bags and gel packs as microwaves are still active for approximately 2 minutes after. Allow a few minutes after removing the heated object from the microwave to rest a couple of minutes.