Ice or Heat: What's the Latest Word on Injury Treatment?

injury treatment hot or cold
It's an age-old question in injury treatment: Ice....

Have you ever found yourself wondering whether the application of ice or heat is the right treatment for a particular ailment? If so, you're not alone. Not only is the topic a confusing one, but wisdom on the subject has changed over the years. Let's take a closer look at current best practices for using ice or heat for pain relief and injury treatment. Although If you suffer harm at your gym, you may be able to recover full compensation for all damages and losses with the help of a gym injury law firms.

Ice for Pain Relief

Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, is used for pain relief when new injuries result from trauma. One general rule of thumb? If pain is caused by an injury that is new, red, swollen or sensitive to the touch, ice is generally recommended.

Cold therapy is also used to relieve inflammation which occurs following exercise, AKA acute inflammation. Sprains, bruises and tears, as well as repetitive stress and tissue fatigue injuries, such as strains, tendinitis, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis, are all commonly treated with ice. Additionally, cold therapy is sometimes prescribed as a treatment for regular and inflammatory arthritis.

When tissue becomes damaged due to injury, swelling naturally occurs, which leads to pain. Cold therapy acts as analgesic by narrowing blood vessels and decelerating blood flood, which reduces inflammation due to fluid buildup. However, while this numbs the area to pain, it does not treat the underlying cause. In other words, cold therapy is a management tool for the natural biological process of inflammation, but not a cure for the injury itself.

Cold therapy is applied locally and should never be used for more than 20 minutes as excessive use can cause tissue damage. Ice packs, cold gel packs, iced towels, ice massage, and even bags of frozen vegetables are can be used for ice therapy.

One other thing to keep in mind about cold therapy? It should rarely be used for trigger point back and neck pain. Why? Because even though inflammation may accompany these issues, they're usually muscular in nature and can therefore be irritated by cryotherapy.

Heat for Pain Relief

Unlike cold therapy, heat therapy -- also known as thermotherapy -- is used for chronic pain, as well as injuries which are more than a day old. Because heat can increase inflammation, it should not be used for acute injuries. However, it is an effective way to stimulate blood flow, relax spasms, and soothe soothe stiff joints and muscles.

Overexertion leads to the accumulation of lactic acid in muscles and the resultant pain. Heat therapy helps restore blood flow and remove toxins from the body. Heat therapy is also thought to calm the nervous system and even the mind -- making it a useful treatment for stress, which can be a factor in chronic pain. Heat therapy can also provide comfort for stiffness and pain related to everything from neuropathic symptoms to menstrual cramping.

There are two types of thermotherapy: local and systemic. The former involves the application of heat to a specific area of the body via a heating pad, hot water bottle, damp towel, or heat wrap. The latter, which includes hot baths, steam baths, saunas, and hot showers, raises overall body temperature.

As with cold therapy, prolonged exposure to heat therapy can be dangerous. Additionally, it's important to stay hydrated while undergoing systemic heat therapy.

Ice and Heat...Together?

It's not always one or the other when it comes to the question of ice or heat. Many people rely on a combination of ice and heat while recovering from an injury, beginning first with ice therapy to reduce swelling, following up in the days afterward with heat to relieve soreness.

If one approach offers more relief or comfort than the other, it's important to listen to the body and respond appropriately. Conversely, if heat or ice exacerbates an injury or pain from that injury, refrain from using that particular treatment. As with all forms of injury treatment, it's ultimately about what works best for each individual.

If you're interested in furthering your knowledge of sport medicine and/or exploring a career in physical therapy or an alternate health and wellness-related field, request information from SOCHi today.