Heat or ice for injuries?

Heat or ice for injuries?

When I have an injury, should I put heat or ice on the pain?

There is no standard answer but there are some general things to understand that can help you determine the right treatment for your aches and pains:

  • Pain is frequently caused by some type of inflammation, which means that extra blood and immune cells are rushing to the injury site to help the tissue heal.  While this is generally a good thing, the body’s instinct to repair can sometimes happen too quickly and intensely, causing the repair process to slow down and the tissue to become painful and swollen.
  • Understanding what the two topical treatments do for the body helps determine which thermal route to choose. Heat causes blood vessels to open and allows the flow of blood into an area. This feels good as it helps the muscles to feel loose and mobile. Ice, on the other hand, shrinks the opening of the vessels, reducing the amount of blood that can enter the area, which provides relief when something is swollen and irritated.

Both options can provide relief. So which one should you use?  

We often tell patients - you can’t go wrong with ice, but heat at the wrong time can possibly make things worse, especially if there is any kind of internal bleeding or serious condition. When in doubt, put ice on it and contact a health professional for an evaluation. Chiropractors are often the first line of defense for injuries and can provide a comprehensive treatment plan or refer to other medical professionals as needed.

When an injury occurs and doesn’t require professional care, always use ice first. It will control the swelling and can reduce bruising. Even if you think the injury is “just a muscle”, use ice to keep the pain, inflammation and stiffening to a minimum.

After a few days (2-5 depending on the injury), when the inflammation has diminished, apply heat to promote increased blood flow to the area. This allows the body to deliver nutrients and immune cells to the tissue so repair can occur as quickly and effectively as possible. By warming the area you will also loosen things up allowing for easier movement.

For either ice or heat, 20 minutes is a good duration, and NEVER put ice or an ice pack directly on your skin. A t-shirt or a light towel are great to put between your skin and the ice.

If you have any questions about treatment for injuries, our office is always available to answer, treat, or refer you to the appropriate healthcare professional. Call us at 770.509.3400 for an appointment Monday-Thursday and select Saturdays.

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