Should Your Heat Or Ice An Injury?

So, you’ve pushed just a lil bit too much and now are hurtin’. What do you do? Do you heat or ice it? Well, there’s a fine line when it comes to heating or icing an injury. So if you’re not sure whether to grab the heating pad or the bag of frozen peas, use this as a guide for during your recovery.

First thing, determine if whether the injury is acute(a sudden sprain or strain) or chronic(long-term as a result of overuse). Acute injuries are sudden, sharp,traumatic injuries that occur immediately (or within hours) and cause pain (possibly severe pain). Most often acute injuries result from some sort of impact or trauma such as a fall, sprain, or collision and it’s pretty obvious what caused the injury. Common signs or symptoms of acute injuries are pain, tenderness, redness, skin that is warm to the touch, swelling, and inflammation.

Chronic injuries develop slowly. They sometimes come and go, and may cause dull pain or soreness. They are often the result of overuse, but sometimes develop when an acute injury is not properly treated and doesn’t heal.

Ice Treatment

Ice is best for acute injuries. If you have a recent injury(within 48 hours) and there is swelling, use the ice treatment. It can help to minimize the swelling. Ice treatment can also be use in later rehabilitation for athletes with chronic injuries after a workout to keep inflammation at bay and prevent overused muscles from acting up.

Emily Bibb of FitSugar recommends, “If you’re both icing and heating an injury, always end with ice. Since ice works to reduce the swelling, following it up with heat will counteract it, increasing blood flow and possible swelling. Don’t ice for longer than 20 minutes (doing so can lead to frostbite), and never ice before a workout; this will only make your muscles stiff and vulnerable to injury.”

  • Rub the ice cube over the affected area until it melts completely.
  • Soak a thin washcloth in cold water. Wring it out and place over the affected area. Place a bag of frozen vegetables or bagged ice on top. If you want, use an Ace wrap to hold it in place.
  • For hands or feet, soak in a bucket or bowl of icy water for 10-15 minutes.
  • Apply for no longer than 20 minutes at a time.

Heat Treatment

Heat treatments should be used for chronic conditions to help relieve the aches and pains or overused muscles by relaxing and loosening joint tissues and stimulating blood flow to the area. Use heat treatments for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries, before participating in activities. Don’t use heat after a workout; ice is the better choice then for a chronic injury. But, do not heat a new injury or acute injury! When an injury first occurs, swelling and inflammation is at its peak. Heat will only make this worse by increasing circulation and skin temperature. You can heat with an electric heating pad or even better a hot, wet towel.

  • Apply for no more than 20 minutes. Never apply heat while sleeping.
  • Place a cloth layer between the heating pad and the skin. The first few times the heating pad is used, check the skin every 5 minutes to make sure there is no burning.
  • The setting on the heating device should be at the minimum level where you still feel heat. A higher setting is not better, just more likely to burn.

As always, you should see your doctor if your injury does not improve (or gets worse) within 48 hours.

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