Which One Should I Use?
Anyone who has sustained an injury has asked themselves at one point “should I use heat or ice for this problem?” The answer depends on the severity of the injury and the time frame the injury occurred. While both modalities are effective for pain relief, they will have different physiological effects on the body part they are applied to.
When an injury is first sustained, the tissues surrounding the injury will become inflamed and swollen. Application of cold to the area within the first 48-72 hours will act to constrict the blood vessels that contribute to the swelling. This will help to limit the amount of swelling and its duration. If heat is applied in this first 2-3 days, the blood vessels will dilate causing an increase in swelling and possibly more pain after the heat is removed. The more severe the injury is, the longer this initial “acute phase” will last and the use of heat should be delayed.
Once the swelling has begun to subside from the injury, improving blood flow to the region is encouraged and heat can be used. This will help to remove the waste products from the injured tissue and improve mobility of the region for function. Application of cold can still be used at this time for pain relief if desired. It is especially useful after increased activity to prevent a reoccurrence of swelling at this “subacute phase.”
For older injuries or chronic pain where swelling is no longer an issue, either heat or cold can be used for pain relief. Both should be attempted and the more effective treatment used as needed. A typical application of either modality is for 15-20 minutes, several times per day. The skin should be checked regularly for sensitivity, and to prevent burns. If you are still not certain as to weather heat or cold is the right choice, ask a healthcare professional.
By: Steve Bernstein