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Do I ICE or HEAT an injury? The Never-Ending Question.

If there’s one thing that we’re familiar with at the Hudson Chiropractic Clinic, it’s knowing how to handle and manage random injuries and pain. We know that sometimes, you just need quick and immediate relief – whether it’s from a fresh injury or a long-term issue. Traditional approaches to treating injuries include icing and heating, which are still both very useful. But cold and heat therapy play two different roles in treatment.

When should I ice my injury?

Cold therapy or icing is ideal for “new” injuries. By “new,” we are referring to an injury that’s less than 2 weeks old. It works best if you can get it on an acute injury within 24-48 hours after the injury or symptoms occurred.  So if you’re suffering from an acute injury, like a pulled muscle, bursitis, a sprain or tendinitis, consider putting ice on it. FYI: Ice can also help alleviate the “throbbing” types of headaches that generally aren’t caused from muscle spasms. Heat works better for headaches caused from long-standing muscle spasms.

What does ice do to the body?

Therapy using ice drastically reduces blood flow and restricts chemical reactions in the area by constricting blood vessels. The goal is to reduce swelling, inflammation and pain. The other benefit of icing an injury is that it can numb the area, bringing on much-needed relief.

How do I ice an injury properly? 

Begin by taking an ice pack or a physician approved icing mechanism and wrap it in a thin or light towel. We don’t recommend putting the pack directly on the injury as a precaution to protect your skin. Apply the ice pack on the injured or affected area  3 or 4 times throughout the day for about 20 minutes each time. Move the ice pack around the area during the 20-minutes. Wait a couple hours being reapplying.

When should I heat my injury?

Traditionally, heat therapy is known for being used on chronic (long-standing) injuries, including arthritis pain and chronic back pain, and pain that lingers after sprains and other injuries. The important point to note, is to not use it during the inflammation stage (acute or icing stage), as it can cause added inflammation and hinder the recovery process. FYI:  If you have a headache that is triggered by muscle spasms, heat therapy may bring you relief as well.

What does heat do to the body?

Heat therapy essentially relaxes the joints and muscles and provides relief for both stiffness and spasms by expanding the blood vessels. This allows for greater blood flow and improved nutrient and oxygen delivery to the injured area. This speeds up the healing process and allows the body to be more efficient in clearing healing by-products and inflammatory properties.

How do I heat an injury properly?

As with cold therapy, protect your skin by using a light towel between yourself and the physician approved heating source. You can also dampen a towel with hot water and use that instead. Some have also found relief with warm/hot steamy baths. Once again, don’t exceed the 20-minute mark and don’t reapply the heat until the spot has had a chance to completely cool.

For more help in relieving your acute or chronic pain, you can visit our chiropractic and rehab clinic in Cape Girardeau, MO.

In the meantime, using cold and heat therapy is an effective way to find relief for your symptoms. Remember, cold is best for new or acute injuries, and heat is best for chronic ones!

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