Ice or Heat?

One of the most common questions I hear is, “should I put ice or heat on it?

When to ice:ice injury

Any new injury is a good candidate for ice. If there is swelling or warmth over the area, ice is a good idea. The cold will help to constrict the blood vessels in the area. This will limit the amount of swelling by decreasing the blood and fluid released into the damaged tissue. The ice will also help to slow nerve impulses. The numbing effect will decrease pain.

Whenever there is a new injury, the body releases chemicals in the area to limit the area of damage and to clean up the injured cells. Some of these chemicals trigger pain signals to be sent to the brain. By applying ice to the area, you limit the amount of these chemicals and the pain signals.

Because blood vessels can also be injured and because an injured area is used and moved less, the swelling that is allowed to accumulate may take awhile to dissipate. The extra fluid volume creates pressure and decreases mobility. That is why it is so important to ice right after something is injured.

Ice for prevention:

  • After a car accident, the victims may not feel pain initially due to the adrenaline released and other factors. Even if you feel fine, it is not a bad idea to put some frozen peas on your neck for 15 minutes when you get home.
  • After a hard workout. Many athletes will ice a joint they know gets a lot of work to prevent inflammation and injury. Example: baseball pitcher icing his shoulder and elbow when he leaves the game.

When not to ice: it hurts more than the expected uncomfortable nature of ice, Raynaud’s Syndrome, neuropathy or numbness. Do not apply chemical ice packs directly to skin.

When to heat:

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