One of the most frequent questions we are asked by patients is “Should I use heat or ice?” I like to respond by saying “whichever feels good!” And to a degree, that remark is true. The body does an incredible job letting us know what it does and doesn’t like.
ICE- If an injury is acute, meaning it happened in the last 72 hours, we advise that you ice to help mediate the inflammatory response. Some inflammation is good because it brings cells that assist in healing to the area. However, too much inflammation will reduce mobility and increase pain levels. It doesn’t matter if it’s a joint or muscle pain, ice is the top recommendation. The length of time you ice may be different depending on the location of the injury. NOTE: you do not want to use ice for too long (>30 minutes) because it could injure the skin. After 24-48 hours of icing, start alternating between heat and ice, especially for muscle aches. When in doubt, ice because you can’t really do any harm.
HEAT- If a condition is chronic, heating the area can be very beneficial. It helps to increase the elasticity of the muscle by bringing blood flow to the area, easing the tension at an area of chronic stiffness. Pain from arthritis is often alleviated with heat because the mobility of the joint increases relieving the chronic stiffness associated with arthritic conditions. One confusing example is if you sprain an arthritic joint. Although heat is recommended for arthritis, ice should be used first to reduce swelling for the first 24-48 hours. If visible swelling is present, it is advised you avoid heat until the swelling reduces. Since heat increases blood flow to the area, you don’t want to end up with even greater swelling. This concept should be considered when using a heating pad or getting in a hot tub.
As always, consult with your health care professional to discuss your personal case. At Body Logic, our doctors and massage therapists can help advise you to get the most benefit from the home care choices you make like heat vs. ice. We want to help you move better, feel better, and live better!