|Depending on the injury, icing an ache could amplify pain.
Q: I am confused on whether to ice or heat after an injury or muscle inflammation. Can you help?
-N. Bodine, -Foothill Ranch, CA
A: First off it is important to know the difference between acute and chronic injuries. I suggest icing an acute injury and heating a chronic injury. Unfortunately, most of us do not understand the difference between acute and chronic so we self-treat with whatever we think feels good.
Acute is an injury that just happened, having severe onset and a short course. Chronic is an injury persisting for a long time. Ice is often used after acute injuries such as an ankle sprain and in which ice constricts blood flow to muscles. Usually heat initially feels good even though it is adding inflammation and swelling; once heat is removed the injury is more irritated than if you just left it alone. You end up extending the symptoms and delay your healing when heat is applied to an acute injury. Applying an ice pack early around the injury often for the first 48 hours will help minimize swelling, decease bruising and help to control the pain.
Ice treatments may also be used for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries in athletes and after activities that irritate a chronic injury, such as shin splints. In this case, ice the injured area AFTER activity to help control inflammation. Never ice a chronic injury before activity, heat is the better choice. It is recommended that ice is only applied for 10 minutes every hour. Too much ice can do harm, even cause frostbite; more ice application does not mean more relief.
Heat treatments should be used for chronic conditions to help relax and loosen tissues, and to stimulate blood flow to the area. Use heat treatments for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries, before participating in activities. Applying ice when heat is suggested can delay your recovery time.
Do not use heat treatments after activity, and do not use heat after an acute injury. Heat can be accomplished by using a heating pad, or even a hot, wet towel. When using heat treatments, be very careful to use moderate heat for a limited time to avoid burns. It is recommended to apply a heat treatment for no more than 20 minutes every hour and always place towels or something between the body and the heat to prevent trauma to skin. Never apply heat while sleeping.
I hope this helps no matter what the situation, however the best thing to do is try not to get injured, which is obviously out of our control when one is active.
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