21 Oct Heat vs Ice For pain reduction—which one to use and when?
One of the most common questions I get asked by patients in clinic is regarding the use of ice or heat in response to pain. Generally, the questions are regarding which one is better. The answer here is that they are both good, but for different types of pain or injury.
In my personal experience (and what is generally accepted in traditional medicine), ice is best used for new – or acute injuries (good for about 48 hours after the injury has occurred) and heat is better used for old – or chronic injuries. However use ice if you acutely aggravate an old injury site!
With fresh injuries such as spraining an ankle, swelling is a problem. One of your first concerns is to reduce heat and swelling around the area of injury to reduce the pain as much as possible. By placing ice on the affected area, this can reduce swelling which in turn will minimise the pain. By placing the source of ice on the injury for 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, for a 3-4 rounds, you should start to feel the pain reduce.
Heat is best used with long term pain, such as chronic muscle tightness. Heat is a very good way to relax and loosen tissues in the body, which in turn will decrease pain caused from muscle tightness. Always make sure when using heat treatments that it is not too hot and never use it while sleeping. Leaving the heat source on the area of pain for about 15 minutes should be enough to see results.
So, next time you are thinking of a way to reduce pain, always think about heat or ice. They are easy to obtain, easy to use and very effective. Just remember, ice is good for fresh (acute) injuries in the first 48 hours and heat is good for older (chronic) injuries after the first 48 hours.