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Should you use ice or heat to treat an injury?

One of the most common questions I get is whether ice or heat is best for pain and injuries. The answer is that both of them can reduce pain, but they work best at different times after injury. The basic rule is:

• Use ice for acute pain – within 48 hours of injury
• Use heat for anything beyond this.

However if you find that this rule does not work for you and it aggravates your symptoms, then don’t follow it. Do what works best for you.

should-you-use-ice-or-heat

ICE – What does ice do?


When you injure your body, the area becomes inflamed. The swelling caused by the injury can put pressure on the surrounding structures causing pain. Ice constricts your blood vessels; it slows down blood flow to an injury and therefore controls the swelling.

How to apply it? Heat vs Ice

Wrap ice packs or frozen peas in a wet towel, and place it on the site of injury for no more than 20 minutes.

How to use it safely
• Don’t apply it for longer than 20 minutes
• Don’t apply it if you have problems with your circulation, or open wounds or stitches

HEAT – What does heat do?


Heat opens up your blood vessels and allows oxygen to reach the tissues that are injured and deprived of oxygen. Heat can reduce painful joints, and relax muscles that are tight. It helps decrease muscle spasms and alleviates pain.

Types of heat therapy
• Heat patch
• Heat pad
• Hot water bottle
• Hot shower/ bath

How to use it safely
• Don’t fall asleep with the heat pad!
• Don’t apply it if you have problems with your circulation, or open wounds or stitches

Written by Hily Perpinyal, Clinical Director, Home Physio Group

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