Today, I thought I would touch upon a question that I get asked quite often in practice. When should I use Ice and when should I use Heat? What is the difference between ice or heat for treating my injury?
These are both interesting questions and something that I would like to address in this blog.
When to use ICE or Cryotherapy?
Ice or cryotherapy is usually used for pain relief and inflammation immediately post injury (acute phase of injury). With ice usage, inflammation, edema (swelling), hemorrhage, as well as how fast your nerves conduct decreases, while pain tolerance increases. Generally, ice should be used throughout the inflammatory process (acute phase of injury). This process typically begins immediately post injury and lasts between 3 to 5 days. Along with ice, individuals may use a technique called RICE.
What is RICE?
Rice stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. For instance, when one presents with an acute ankle sprain, this technique can be used. By resting, one avoids aggravating the area further, by icing and compressing, one can decrease swelling, and by elevating one focuses on draining swelling back towards the heart. Cold/ICE should be applied during the first 4 hours post injury at intervals of 10 minutes every 30-60 minutes.
When do I use HEAT Therapy?
Heat is generally used for increasing blood flow to the area and helping muscles and tendons to relax during chronic phases of injury – in other words, an injury that has been around for long periods. By using heat, we are better able to relax tight muscles. Heat has been thought to increase the inflammatory process and thus is usually not advised during the acute phase (immediate post injury phase).
What cold treatments are available?
We may use the following cold treatment in practice: cold packs, gel packs, ice tape, compression units, menthol compounds and even vapo-collant spray. One of the most common and arguably the best way to cool down an area is to use a baggie filled with ice/cold water. Some individuals may use a bag of peas from the freezer – which will work as well.
What heat treatments are available?
Heat can be administered using a variety of ways including: hot packs, hydrocullator pads (we use this quite often in our practice), paraffin baths, whirlpools, and hot towels. No matter which way is utilized, it is important to monitor the skin for inflammation via redness. The main concern is that the individual may burn themselves if not monitored.
Before using heat or ice, always be sure to consult with your health provider.
Although, it may seems fairly simple, there is quite a bit of confusion out there when it comes to ice and heat. Hope this post clears up some of the questions between heat and ice!
Dr. Luciano Di Loreto