Ice or Heat?
by: Tele Demetroius
It is often difficult for patients to determine whether ice or heat treatment is appropriate for an injury. Whilst heat often provides immediate comfort and relief, it may actually be causing more harm than good. Likewise, incorrect use of ice may also prolong injury recovery. If used correctly, however, appropriate ice and heat treatment can help to reduce bleeding, inflammation, swelling, muscle spasm and pain following injury. They can also accelerate healing and hasten injury recovery.
Ice or Heat?
How is ice treatment beneficial?
Ice treatment helps to reduce blood flow to the affected region. This is beneficial in the inflammatory phase of an injury (the first 72 hours following injury or injury aggravation) as it helps to reduce the amount of inflammation and swelling that accumulates in the injured region. Ice treatment may also help to reduce bleeding, pain and muscle spasm.
Further measures to reduce blood flow to the affected region are also indicated in the first 72 hours following injury and should comprise: Rest from aggravating activities, elevation of the injured part above the level of your heart and the use of a compression bandage.
(N.B. If on applying a compression bandage you experience pins and needles, numbness or ANY colour change in your foot, the bandage is too tight and is cutting off your circulation. It must therefore be loosened or taken off completely. Remove your compression bandage for sleeping).
Anti-inflammatory medication may also be beneficial in this initial phase and should be directed by your pharmacist.
When should I use ice?
Ice treatment should always be used during the inflammatory phase of an injury (first 72 hours following injury or injury aggravation). Since inflammation normally presents as a pain or ache that increases with rest (especially first thing in the morning) and reduces with movement or a hot shower, we can use these symptoms as a guide for ice treatment.
Therefore, ice should be used for a minimum of 72 hours following injury AND until you have no achiness upon waking in the morning.
During this period, avoid heat treatment, alcohol and massage (to the injured area), all of which increase blood flow and inflammation.
How do I use ice?
The injured area should be iced for 20 minutes every 2 hours. This can be accomplished by using crushed ice or an ice pack wrapped in a damp tea towel.
(N.B. People who are sensitive to cold or have circulatory problems need to be wary when using ice treatment).
How is heat treatment beneficial?
Heat treatment increases blood flow to the affected region. This is beneficial after the inflammatory phase of an injury, since more blood flow means more nutrients and oxygen are transported to damaged tissue, therefore speeding healing. Heat can also help to reduce pain and muscle spasm as well as reduce muscle tightness and joint stiffness.
If used during the inflammatory phase (first three days), heat treatment may increase inflammation and swelling, and can prolong injury recovery.
When should I use heat?
Heat should be used to speed injury healing once the injury has completed the inflammatory phase. This is usually three days following injury, however, if the injured region is re-aggravated, a further three days of inflammation may occur.As a general rule, heat can be used 72 hours following injury at earliest AND provided there is no achiness upon waking in the morning (that eases with movement).
How do I use heat?
Apply a heat pack for 10 – 30 minutes at a comfortable warmth to the injured area.
It is recommended that this is repeated 2 – 5 times daily or as required and should ideally be used before exercise.
Ensure your heat pack is not hot enough to cause a burn. Wrapping your heat pack in towels can help to reduce the temperature.
For more information see www.physioadvisor.com
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