Should You Use Ice or Heat?
This is such a common question that Dr. Josh and I get asked by our patients, family and friends. Should you put ice or heat on a part of your body for pain, and what is the difference? Does it really help? Luckily, we’re here to help you sort it out!
Acute VS Chronic?
First we need to have a chat about an ACUTE versus a CHRONIC injury and, once we get that sorted out, you’ll always know what to do. An acute injury is a NEW injury or an aggravation of an old one. This is usually the result of a traumatic event or specific impactful event that happens in one area of the body (knee, elbow, back, ankle, etc.)
A chronic injury is OLD pain that has been around for months and years. Chronic injuries don’t just happen overnight, they develop slowly and are long-lasting and constantly reoccur. Many times, these chronic injuries are overlooked for weeks, months or even years.
For Example: If you slip and fall and hurt your back, that is an ACUTE injury, but if your lower back and has been aching for years, that is a CHRONIC injury.
Benefits of Ice & Heat
Using ice during an ACUTE injury phase constricts the blood vessels, which decreases the flow of blood to the injured area, decreasing cell metabolism. Because the flow of blood has been reduced, this will reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation. Ice is ALWAYS best with an acute injury. DO NOT PUT HEAT ON IMMEDIATELY AFTER AN ACUTE INJURY HAS OCCURRED!
In contrast, heat causes blood vessels to dilate, which increases blood flow to the area and increases cell metabolism, promoting healing. Heat is good with chronic conditions because it brings nutrients and oxygen via the blood to the area.
Take NOTE: MORE IS NOT BETTER when it comes to ice and heat. Falling asleep on a heating pad or ice pack can actually do more harm than good.
Ice the NEW & Heat the OLD
The best phrase for you to remember is “Ice the new and heat the old.” If you fall and and bump your knee, then ice it. If you’ve had a dull, aching pain in your knee for years, then heat it. Simple as that! Say it with me one more time…ICE THE NEW AND HEAT THE OLD!
How Long to Ice or Heat For?
Now that you know the differences between ice and heat, I’m sure you’re thinking, how long do I need to put the ice or heat on for? 20 on 40 off is our rule of thumb. 20 minutes of ice or heat, followed by 40 minutes of nothing. You can repeat this hour after hour, as long as you’d like. So when can you use both ice and heat together? If you have a new injury and it’s been over a week, then you can start rotating in heat as well. If you have a chronic injury and respond better to ice, then you can rotate ice in as well. Listen to your body, it’s all about how you feel! Be sure to always follow this process when using ice/heat together: 20 minutes of ice immediately by 20 minutes of heat, then one hour of nothing.
Of course these are just general guidelines and we always advise that you consult your physician prior to starting any ice/heat regimen, as there are exceptions to these guidelines with certain conditions!
So now that we’re clear about whether to use ice or heat, head over to the Wellness Shop and pick up a hot/cold pack to help you recover faster and get back to living your best life!
Thanks so much for stopping by!
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Dr. Nichole A. Walz
Co-Owner On-The-Go Wellness