My friend fell down the stairs the other day and hurt her am and shoulder. While talking to her, she asked me if she should use ice or heat on her injury. I thought that was a great thing to share with you guys today since I’m sure she’s not alone in wondering this.
You should use ice for acute injuries when pain has a rapid onset but is short lived and swelling is a problem i.e an ankle sprain. Acute injuries often are the result of some sort of trauma like a fall, sprain, or collision. Ice will help minimize swelling and pain especially if used early and often.
Never use ice on a chronic injury, an injury that can be subtle and slow to develop, before activity. Chronic injury is usually the result of overuse but can develop when an acute injury doesn’t properly heal. Using ice after activity is ok to help reduce or prevent inflammation. Ice therapy is often helpful in treating overuse injuries or chronic pain in athletes if used after activity.
Use heat to help relax and loosen tissues and to stimulate blood flow to an area. Always use heat before activity not after. Do not use heat after an acute injury. Heat is really intended for chronic conditions where there is chronic irritation to a part of the body like tennis elbow or carpal tunnel.
As always, be sure to know the source of the problem and consult with an appropriately trained and licensed professional to make sure that your problem doesn’t require medical attention.
When to Use Ice or Heat
|When||Use ice after an acute injury, such as an ankle sprain, or after activities that irritate a chronic injury, such as shin splints. Use ice for 48 hours. If the problem gets worse, or doesn’t show significant improvement in 48 hours, see a doctor or physical therapist.||Use heat for chronic aches and pains, or new and minor muscular pain like a stiff neck or a sore back. Use heat also before activities that irritate chronic injuries such as muscle strains. Heat can help loosen tissues and relax injured areas.|
|How||Cover an ice pack with a lightweight cloth so that it does not directly touch the skin. Use can also use a bag of frozen peas. Combine with rest, compression, and elevation for two days.||Heating pads or hot wet towels are both excellent methods. Place a washcloth under hot tap water and then apply to the injured area. Make sure to use moderate heat to avoid burns.|
|For How Long||Apply ice for 10-20 minutes at a time. Allow the skin temperature to return to normal before icing again. More ice application does not mean more relief.||Apply a heat treatment for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. Never apply heat while sleeping.|