…Now that’s a good question. We all experience aches and pains due to minor injuries, age, workouts, sports, yard work, or just life in general. We have all, also then, had the dilemma of deciding whether to treat the pain with ice or heat. Here are a few rules of thumb to help you decipher that question and get the appropriate treatment needed to speed your recovery.
Ice and heat have opposite effects on the body. Heat dilates the capillaries thus increasing blood flow to the muscles at the application site. This increase of blood flow carries oxygen and nutrients to the injured area and helps it heal. Ice, on the other hand, constricts blood flow where applied, thus decreasing swelling of the tissues in that area. When swelling of the area decreases, blood flow to the injured area increases, so healing can begin, but only once the swelling has decreased considerably.
So, if your injury is acute, characterized by swelling, redness, bruising and pain then best to treat with ice for the first 24-48 hours. After that time, if the swelling has subsided you can alternate ice and heat, always ending with heat. If your injury is chronic, developing gradually over time and is characterized by a dull ache, recurring pain and/or tightness, your best choice is heat for 15-20 minutes, several times per day.
Hopefully you won’t have the need for this information, but if you do, you now have some knowledge to help answer the question…to ice, or not to ice.