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When to Use Ice Versus Heat for an Injury or Pain

Shoulder painWhen you have a painful injury, getting the pain to stop is often, understandably, your top priority. However, it can be confusing to figure out if applying ice or heat is best to treat the pain.

As a licensed chiropractor in Virginia for more than 20 years, I have helped patients treat a wide variety of conditions with both ice and heat as appropriate. Below are some tips I will share about when it is best to apply ice, heat, or a combination of both.

When Should I Apply Ice to an Injury?

Ice should be used to help control inflammation from new injuries, such as sprains or strain. It can also be used to help treat inflammatory conditions like gout attacks. Because peak inflammation from an injury will occur after around 72 hours, ice works best if used in this timeframe. You can apply ice for up to 20 minutes several times a day.

Ice works by constricting blood vessels. This has several effects at the site of injury, including:

  • Reducing fluid build-up
  • Slowing blood flow
  • Reducing pressure
  • Preventing inflammation

By controlling these factors, you can help to limit the pain from your injury. The cold from applying ice can also help to numb painful tissues on the skin, which also helps to relieve pain.

What Kind of Ice Should Be Applied to an Injury?

When we say to “ice” an injury, this is often a misnomer. Applying ice directly to the skin is not advised, as this can reduce the temperature of the skin below freezing or cause skin damage.

Instead, it is best to use a cold gel pack which can be bought at drugstores. Conversely, you can wrap ice in a towel and apply it to the skin, because the barrier provided by the towel will prevent your skin from getting too cold.

When Should I Apply Heat to an Injury?

Heat should be applied for chronic pain, stiffness, muscle spasm/pain, arthritic pain, and trigger points. Heat works to relieve pain in two main ways:

  • Increasing blood flow, bringing healing substances to the target site
  • Relaxing your muscles

However, heat can also increase pressure and inflammation at the application site. For this reason, it is best to avoid applying heat to new injuries like sprains and strains. Additionally, to avoid inflammation you should limit heat application to 20 minutes several times a day.

What Kind of Heat Should Be Applied to an Injury?

Moist heat is the best type of heat to use, as it penetrates deeper into your tissues than dry heat at the same temperatures. To obtain a moist source of heat, you can soak a facecloth or small towel in hot water, then wring it out and apply it to your skin. Alternatively, you can soak in the bath or take a shower. Extreme heat should be avoided, as you may damage the skin.

When Should I Alternate Heat and Ice on an Injury?

Alternating heat and ice on an injury can be useful if you are suffering from exercise-induced muscle pain. The heat can help your body bring in healing substances to the site of injury. Following the heat with ice can then help to reduce inflammation, and in turn, reduce pain. Heat and ice should be alternated, with 20 minutes on then at least 20 minutes off.

After applying heat or ice to your skin, you may notice some minor skin changes, like temperature changes to your skin or a change in your skin’s hue. It is important to let your skin go back to a normal color and temperature before reapplying heat or ice, or alternating them.

Using Heat or Ice at Precision Spinal Care

As a certified NUCCA chiropractor and credentialed spine care specialist, I strongly believe that the first visit is best used as a time to fully assess your condition. This includes a thorough exam and a discussion about your medical problems.

After your exam at the first visit, we will discuss my evaluation. If heat or ice therapy is appropriate to treat your condition, I will advise you of this and counsel you on specific instructions for applying heat or ice.

If chiropractic is not the best solution for your needs, I will recommend the type of specialist who is most appropriate for you.

If chiropractic care is the best way to meet your care goals, we will work together to develop a plan to meet your needs. I make sure to set reasonable expectations and milestones for your recovery. At regular intervals, I will reevaluate you to make sure you are meeting these goals and that chiropractic remains the best choice for you.

We understand that you need to explore all your options when you look for expert chiropractic care. At Precision Spinal Care, we are happy to help you determine the best way to address your specific needs and discuss all the options with you and your family.

At Precision Spinal Care I am happy to help you determine the best way to treat your herniated or bulging discs. Call our office at (757) 382-5555 to speak with me or set up a consultation. You can alsoset up an appointment through our webpage.

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