Do You Use Ice or Heat For Your Injury?


Driving to work today, I noticed all the trees changing color.  The mountain sides in Hamilton County look like a flower garden with all the reds, yellows, greens and oranges.  While the wind blows, the leaves fall from the trees and dance in the air.  This description is a beauty to some, but others it’s a fresh reminder of the mounds of yard work this fall season will entail. Yard work can put a lot of stress on your back and neck.  Straining muscles, injuring discs, spraining tendons/ligaments are all common injuries that occur with yard work.  If you don’t separate your yard work into an hour here and an hour there, type work your risk of injury becomes more probable. When an injury occurs, the common question that is asked by a patient to any doctor is, “Do I use ice or heat?”.  There are some rules when it comes to ice and heat therapy.  If you follow the rules, the treatment can be very therapeutic and help you bounce back quicker. Do you use ice or heat for your injury?  The one you use depends on the type of injury you have.

Is the injury a new and acute injury or is it an older, reoccurring type pain?  A new injury will cause inflammation and possibly swell.  The injury will usually be painful to the touch.  These type of injuries which are the most common, you would use ice on it.  The ice will slow down the blood flow and decrease the inflammation.  The ice will also decrease pain and relax muscle spasms.  If the injury swells or bruises, ice should be used.  Heat for these type of injuries should never be used, because it can cause the inflammation to become much worse.  It may feel good while you’re doing it, but the heat actually increases blood flow and will make it swell.  Ice can be used up to 4-6 weeks with an acute injury. Ice should be applied 20 minutes on, then 20 minutes off and then 20 minutes on again.  Wait for an hour then repeat.  Ice should never be applied directly to the skin.  Wrap the ice in a towel before applying.  Ice can damage the skin. Injuries that are older than 6 weeks, muscle stiffness or osteoarthritis respond better to moist heat.  Moist heat increases blood flow to injuries.  This brings nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and joints.  This will reduce pain, promote healing and increase range of motion.  Moist heat consists of hot shower, rice bag, gel packs, hot water bottles and Jacuzzis.  Rice bags and gel packs can be heated in the microwave and be reused often. Muscle strains and minor problems, heat should be applied for about 20 minutes followed with a stretch or exercise to improve the range of motion.  Some injuries may require more heat time then 20 minutes, but only if your doctor recommends.  Once again, heat should never be applied directly to your skin.  Make sure there is a thin towel in between.  Heat should never be applied, if you’re a diabetic or have poor circulation.  Open wounds or fresh injuries never apply heat.  Never fall asleep on a heating pad. Most patients’ injuries require ice.  If you ever wonder which to use ice or heat and your doctor isn’t around to ask, ice is the answer.

Christopher Lewis, D.C.