Heat or Ice?
As a physical therapist, I see injuries from head to toe. Regardless of injury type, one of the the most common questions I am asked daily is: “Do I use heat or ice?”
I’d like to take time to clarify this question as it relates to common muscle and joint pain.
If being used because you have muscular pain, heat and ice both work. That’s right, you can use both! Certain nerves in the body tell your brain if you have pain. On this same nerve, it also relays information about temperature. Therefore, if you change the temperature by using ice or heat, that information becomes more important to the brain, and suddenly, the message about the pain reduces. Essentially you are tricking your body, and the change of temperature is really reducing your body’s ability to recognize the pain. So use whatever feels better for you!
If you just had an injury (within 72 hours), ice is your friend. It will help reduce swelling from developing in the area you just injured and reduce blood flow in the area, which is what you initially need. So remember, acute injures = ice.
Heat is best used for arthritic joints and chronic muscle aches. Heat will bring more blood flow to the area and help the area heal. This works best for stiff joints and muscles that need relaxation.
Of course, always use caution when using either of these modalities. Do not place either directly over open wounds or infections or use if you have certain conditions that affect your sensation ability. It should not be used with certain vascular, cardiac and neurological conditions. Your skin should be checked every five minutes to make sure there is no damage (burns or skin irritation). Heat and ice should be used 15-20 minutes at a time with 20 minute rest breaks in between each use before reapplying.
If you have any questions on whether should or should not use heat or ice, or which one to use, err on the side of caution and ask your physical therapist or physician first.