Heat VS Ice: When to Use One Over the Other

Injuries happen. There are those injuries that are severe enough we instantly know a trip to the ER is necessary. And then there are those times we twist an ankle or knee and a trip to the ER doesn’t seem necessary, and so we decide to treat the injury ourselves.

Usually, after an injury, a person, or their loved one, goes to the freezer to get ice to put on the affected site. But is this ALWAYS the way an injury should be treated?

No. The truth is, there is a time and place for icing an injury. But there is also a time and a place for using heat on an injury. And it’s important to know when to use what to ensure you can recover fully and as quickly as possible.
Let’s take a look at when to use ice and when to use heat.

Icing an Injury

Ice treatments should be used in the case of an acute – or sudden – injury. When you twist that ankle, it is going to begin to swell. This is because the body uses acute inflammation to heal the wound. While inflammation is important for the healing process if left unchecked, an acute injury can be incredibly painful and lead to disability.

It is usually recommended that within the first 48 hours of sustaining an injury, you ice the area to reduce swelling, pain, and alleviate muscle spasms. It should be noted that ice can also be beneficial in treating chronic conditions such as tendinitis and bursitis. “Itis” on the end of a word signifies inflammation, and so ice can work to decrease inflammation with these conditions as well.

To ice an injury safely, never place ice or ice packs directly on the skin. Always use a cloth barrier such as a thin towel or T-shirt. Don’t hold the ice in one area for too long, but move it around the area every few minutes to avoid frostbite. And finally, never ice an injury for more than 15 minutes. Ice, then leave it alone for an hour or so, then ice again, and repeat like that throughout the first 48 hours.

Heat Treatment

Heat is typically used to treat a chronic condition such as muscle strain. The heat helps to relax soft tissues and stimulate blood flow to the area. In general, heat should be used for what is called an “overuse” injury, not an acute one. When you overuse your back or shoulders or neck, you are left with tight, strained muscles.

To use heat safely to treat muscle pain, you may use a heated towel or electric heating pad, or one of those microwaveable bags filled with rice. Be careful not to overheat the item, moderate heat works best. And do not use heat for extended periods of time. 15-20 minutes will work wonders.

When Is It Time to See a Chiropractor for Your Injury?

There are those times when a twisted ankle or a strained back takes a long time to heal. If you have suffered either an acute injury or have a chronic injury from overuse, then it is time to see a chiropractor. A chiropractor will evaluate your injury and determine what the underlying reason may be that the injury just isn’t healing. Ongoing treatments will help to not only heal the injury but reduce painful symptoms.

If you are currently suffering from an injury and would like some relief, please call or stop by our office for a free evaluation.



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