How to Choose Between Ice and Heat for your Pain

When you find yourself in pain it is sometimes hard to know when to use ice and when to use heat. Both ice and heat have their advantages, but use them improperly and they can make your symptoms worse and prolong the time it takes you to heal. Below we will review how ice and heat should be used whether your pain is acute or chronic and provide tips to keep in mind when deciding between when to chill and when to warm.

man icing and elbow injury
man icing and elbow injury

Acute Injuries

When dealing with injuries that are acute (less than 6 weeks old) ice is recommended. Acute injuries often cause swelling and inflammation that can lead to further damage and pain. Ice will constrict (slow) blood flow and limit the amount of inflammation that is able to reach the injured area – likely allowing for a quicker recovery time and less pain and swelling. When heat is used on an acute injury it will dilate (speed up) blood flow and allow more inflammation to reach the injured site – potentially causing more damage, increased pain, and delaying proper healing. Although heat may feel comforting and may be tempting to place on a new injury, ice is likely the best choice.

Reminder: Always consult with your doctor after an injury to understand the extent of the damage and to ensure you receive proper treatment.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain (pain that is greater than 6 weeks old) will likely respond well to a combination of both ice and heat. Chronic pain often occurs when the cause of your pain is left untreated or improperly treated. This type of pain typically necessitates ongoing care to rehabilitate your specific problems and will likely involve a variety of therapies. Both heat and ice have a place in these rehabilitation programs. Heat is best used before engaging in an activity or therapy that is meant to increase your range of motion (ie. stretching, exercising, chiropractic adjustments, spinal traction, etc.). This will help loosen and relax the muscles and soft tissues around the area of focus, allowing a more effective stretch or adjustment. Ice can then be used after any of the above activities or therapies have concluded. Ice will help reduce any inflammation caused by the activity and help prevent soreness or flare-ups that can occur throughout a rehabilitation process.

Applying Ice and Heat Safely

Both ice and heat can be applied for up to 20 minutes at a time. 20 minutes off of ice or heat is recommended before re-application. It is important to discontinue the application of ice and heat after 20 minutes (do not use ice or heat for longer than 20 minutes at a time) in order to reduce the risk of burns. It is also recommended to remove the source of heat if the area becomes uncomfortably warm.

Properly Assessing and Treating the Cause of your Pain

If you have tried ice and or heat and are still experiencing pain or discomfort be sure to contact your health care provider for proper assessment and diagnosis. Here at Modern Chiropractic Center it is our goal to help you understand the root cause of your symptoms and provide you with the appropriate solutions . Please give our office a call at 208-301-5641 (Boise location) or 208-205-9934 (Nampa location) to get scheduled for a free consultation and exam to determine whether or not we will be able to help you.

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