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Should I use heat or ice?


It is a very common question and concern whether ice or heat is appropriate for our aches and pains.

The purpose of ice/cold is to reduce the amount of blood flow to an area to slow down/reduce the inflammatory response (a new injury). Heat is just the opposite; we are promoting the increase in blood flow to an area (muscle spasm or stiffness). Heat promotes extensibility and relaxation of the tissues.

As with any other intervention used for the body, each person has their preference towards utilizing heat and/ or cold use. Two golden rules are: 1) if you are within 72 hours of an injury, USE ICE, 2) if you use heat and pain and/or swelling gets worse while using the heat, try ice. Ice and heat can be utilized for up to 20 min; with ice an hour break is required to normalize the tissues before another application. Make sure you use a barrier between the skin and the hot/cold devise you are using as instructed on the packaging. Electronic means of heating (electronic heating pad) and cooling systems should be avoided when sleeping for risk of burning the skin (with use of heat or cold); and both used with caution.

Check the skin occasionally for any adverse reaction such as rash, excessive redness, skin does not blanch (if you press on the skin the white mark your impression makes does not disappear quickly = stop use), tingling/ numbness/pins and needles that progresses away from site of icing. Excessive pressure (example is weight of body/limb) of cold pack over the site of a nerve close to the skin (elbows and knees) warrants extra caution and should be avoided due to risk of freezing a nerve and resulting musclew eakness. Any sensations such as dizziness when using heat around the head/neck region should be discontinued. Take caution towards these modalities if you have: any sensation issues, open wounds, or rashes at the application area.

And most of all… when in doubt – CALL AND ASK US at Albany Sport and Spine Physical Therapy – 541.928.1411.
617 Hickory St. NW, Suite 160
ALbany, OR • Phone 541.928.1411