Ice vs Heat for Injury Treatment
With summer quickly approaching, many of us will be increasing our activity levels. Whether it be playing sports or working around the house, increased activity brings increased risk for injury. Anyone who has experienced an injury of some kind have asked the question whether ice or heat is best to treat these problems.
Before choosing ice or heat to treat an ailment, one should know how each treatment works. Ice for instance is a vasoconstrictor, it closes small blood vessels and reduces swelling. Ice also has a calming effect on the nervous system, thus reducing pain. Ice is typically the safer of the two treatments and is used immediately after an injury and up to 48 hours after the trauma.
Heat on the other hand, is a vasodilator. It opens the small blood vessels and increases blood flow. Heat is commonly used for chronic conditions or to relax and loosen tissues. Heat has also been used to treat trigger points and relax muscle spasms. In some cases it may also be beneficial when applied before activity or exercise.
Both ice and heat can be beneficial when used at the appropriate time. As previously stated, ice is generally preferred for acute, traumatic injuries. It also plays a vital role in reducing inflammation and pain. Heat is generally more effective when used to treat chronic conditions, such as restricted tissues and muscle spasms. Whether ice or heat is chosen, it should always be covered with a clean cloth or towel to protect the skin from frostbite or burns. care should also be taken not to use ice or heat over an infected area or an area where the skin has been compromised.
In summary, one should choose what treatment feels best to them, your body will let you know. As always, if you have questions or concerns consult your physician or your local physical therapist.
Steve Koch, PTA