What should I use for my pain, heat or ice? This is one of the more common questions I hear from patients with acute or chronic pain. Here is some of the latest research and methods on using heat and ice from the Journal of Rehabilitation and Physical Medicine.
Ice or cold therapy is used immediately and up to 72 hours following a new injury. Cold therapy causes a decrease in blood circulation to the injured area reducing the amount of swelling. It also decreases muscle spasms and is used during sporting events to stop muscle cramping in the athlete. Ice is the safest way to treat sprains, strains, and bruises and should be applied immediately after the injury. Cold therapy also decreases cell metabolism, and helps prevent cell death to an injured area, resulting in faster healing time. Ice is very safe but not recommended on patients with Raynaud’s Phenomenon, or some cases of rheumatoid arthritis.
Heat is usually used later than 72 hours after an injury unless instructed otherwise by your health care professional. After an injury heat does have a temporary soothing affect, however, it should never be used immediately following the injury. Heat speeds up circulation and increases cell metabolism. Heat is usually in the form of hot packs, hot water bottles, or a heating pad. Moist heat is the more preferred method because the moist heat will penetrate much deeper, giving a better result. Dry heat (heating pad) is only recommended in a patient with advanced arthritis.
Treatment times may vary but 10 to 20 minutes of ice or heat on an area will provide the best results for most patients. Longer does not mean better. Furthermore, if left on too long, damage can occur.
These are just a few simple tips and suggestions for the use of ice and heat. There are many varying opinions on ice and heat. It is always best to check with your health care provider for any injury and the proper way to treat it. In many instances, heat and ice can be used together to achieve even better results and faster healing times. This is called contrast therapy and should always be done under supervision of you health care provider.