I am often asked “when should I use ice, and when should I use heat on an injury?’
Unfortunately, the answer is a little bit complicated but a sure fast rule is that if in doubt, use ice- Ice, if used incorrectly may not help an injury but will very rarely make it worse. Heat on the other hand can hinder the healing on an injury if used incorrectly.
Why do we use ice?
Ice decreases the amount of the blood to the area as well as decreasing the metabolic rate of the area or tissue. This can help in preventing or reducing inflammation.
When to use ice?
- Ice should be used immediately after a new injury occurs
- It is suggested that ice is applied to an injury in the first 24 hours
- Any injury involving inflammation requires ice
Why do we use heat?
Heat increases the metabolic rate of the area or tissue and increases blood supply, which speeds up the healing process. Heat helps increase the elasticity of connective tissues and relieves off muscle spasm for this reason, heat is great for chronic, stiff or nagging injuries.
Please note: Heat is not recommended on any inflamed areas, as it can increase the inflammation.
When to use heat?
- Older or more chronic injuries
- Injuries where little to no inflammation is involved
- Injuries that involve chronic muscle spasm or stiff joint
Combining heat and Ice
The combination of heat and ice can be very beneficial but must be used correctly.
I recommend the combination of 2 when the injury is more complex than a simple sprain or muscle spasm.
Eg: If a patient presents with a sprain in their lower back with associated inflammation and muscle spasm. Ice will help decrease or prevent inflammation and heat will help with stiffness and muscle spasm.
I recommend, if combining to ALWAYS begin with ice for 10 minutes followed by heat for 5 minutes, followed with ice again for 10 minutes.
By using ice either side of the heat, you are able to get some of the benefits of heat without increasing the inflammation