We’ve heard it many times, “Doc, when do I apply heat and when do I apply ice”. Let’s settle this confusion once and for all. Applying the wrong treatment to an injury can further agrevate your injury. There are specific ways to remember when and how to apply an ice compress and when and how to apply a heat compress.
If you have experienced an injury within the previous 42 hours then go with an ice compress.
Injuries tend to swell and the skin surrounding becomes warm; using ice will constrict the blood vessels and cool down the skin while relieving pain.
Use ice for no more than 20 minutes at a time and no more than eight times in the first 48 hours.
Remember to elevate, and not to apply ice directly to the skin by adding a layer of material between the surfaces.
And rest the injury as much as possibly, at least until swelling is gone.
Pain killers can relieve pain and swelling, but often lead to further injury because pain receptors are blocked.
Remember, ice for injury.
For chronic pain that isn’t associated with a very recent injury go with a heat compress.
UNLESS THERE IS SWELLING! Never apply heat to any area that is swollen. Inflammation is the result of extra blood flow and applying heat will cause even more bloodflow and therefore more swelling and pain. Heat does just the oppositie of ice. Heat opens the blood vessels for increased circulation and warms the surface of the skin. Going with heat will cause more inflammation and possibly more pain.
The increased circulation caused by heat relaxes sore and achey muscles. Apply heat to tired and worn muscles.
Heat can be applied anywhere from 15 minutes to 120 minutes.
Heat can also increase range of motion helping to prevent injury and increase performance. If you have an old injury (not swollen or red), apply heat before activity to relieve pain during activity and increase performance. If swelling is present after activity then apply ice as mentioned above.