• Gary Nakasato
  • Medical Matters
  • wrote this!

Ice Versus Heat

I know you’ve been wondering…When should I use ice and when I use heat in an injury?  The rule of thumb is:  if an injury is acute (less than 72 hours old), ice it!  Never apply heat to an acute injury, no matter what part of the body is injured.  If the injury is older than 72 hours, but there is still significantly swelling, use ice.

Don’t ice an injury before a workout – it diminishes circulation in the affected area and can predispose to further injury.  If there is no swelling or if there is just tightness or soreness from a previous workout, you can use moist heat to the area, before a workout.  You can use ice immediately following a workout on an injury – old or new – for as long as it’s painful or swollen.

A little disclaimer – if you have circulatory problems like Raynaud Syndrome, you should cautious where applying ice or cold compresses.

So when is it appropriate to use heat?  As mentioned before, you can use heat before a workout in a non-acute injury.  But, you can also use heat on an old injury if it involves an area with muscle spasm or tightness.  Use a moist heating pad or pack, for about 10 to 15 minutes over the affected area.

How to apply ice

The easiest way to apply ice to an injury is to grab an ice pack and apply it directly to the affected area.  For some people, their skin might be too delicate to handle the cold, so wrap the ice pack in a thin towel.  Apply for 15 to 20 minutes or however long the pack stays cold.  Remember, instant packs are designed for one use only!  Do not refreeze them!  Multiple use gel packs can be refrozen for repeated use.

ice-massage-cupice-massage-cup-readyThe most effective way of using ice is to ice-massage.  First you need to fill a small paper or Styrofoam cup with water and put it in the freezer.  Once the water is frozen, take the cup and peel down the top to expose the ice.  The leftover cup acts as a grip so you don’t have direct contact with the ice.  Then apply the ice using a circular motion over the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes or until all the ice is melted.shin-splints-ice-massage

In a nutshell, this is the simple way to approach the age old quandary of ice versus heat.  Use it wisely and you’ll recover faster than you thought possible.  If you choose not to follow these recommendations you will spend your days with spare parts taped together.  Hmmm – I think I just got an idea for my next dissertation …


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