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Ice vs Heat: The Great Debate

Ice versus heat is one of the biggest debates in treating injuries. There is so much confusion on which one is better to get you back up on your feet. The answer is, that it depends on the type of injury. Ice packs and heating pads are among the most commonly used treatments in orthopedics and chiropractic medicine. So which one is the right one to use for your injury, ice or heat? And how long should the ice or heat treatments last? Hopefully this blog will give you a little more information and answer any questions you might have about ice and heat.

Ice Ice treatment is most commonly used for acute injuries. If you have had a recent injury, within the last 48 hours, where swelling is a problem, you should be using ice. The body’s natural response to injury is muscle spasm and swelling. This occurs to protect the injured area and prevent further injury. Ice helps to reduce swelling and prevents further swelling, which interferes with proper healing and repair of damaged tissues. Ice should be used for no more than 15-20 minute at a time per hour, but can be used every hour. Never place ice directly on the skin. Instead, place a moist paper towel or cloth towel between the ice and your skin. Ice packs are often used after injuries like ankle sprains have occurred. Applying an ice pack early and often for the first 48 hours will help minimize swelling, and decreasing swelling around an injury will help to control the pain. Ice treatments may also be used for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries in athletes like tennis elbow. In this case, ice the injured area after activity to help control inflammation. Never ice a chronic injury before activity. You can make ice packs with ice cubes in a plastic bag or wet tea towel; a pack of frozen peas is also ideal and can go in and out of the freezer. Never place ice directly on an injury; keep the pack moving to avoid ice burns. Never treat with ice for more than 30 minutes, and remove the pack immediately if the injury appears bright pink or red. Definitely don’t use ice packs on the left shoulder if you have a heart condition, and don’t use ice packs around the front or side of the neck.

Heat Heat treatments should be used for chronic conditions to help relax and loosen tissues and to stimulate blood flow to the area. Use heat treatments for conditions such as overuse injuries before participating in activities. Do not use heat treatments after activity, and do not use heat after an acute injury. Never use heat where swelling is involved because swelling is caused by bleeding in the tissue, and heat just draws more blood to the area. Heating tissues can be accomplished using a heating pad, or even a hot, wet towel. When using heat treatments, be very careful to use a moderate heat for a limited time to avoid burns. Never leave heating pads or towels on for extended periods of time or while sleeping.


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