Ice or heat?
There is a lot of confusion around the topic of when to use ice on an injury or heat. Using ice or heat is a cheap, easy, and safe treatment option to help with many common issues. But when do you use heat and when do you use ice? Let's explore.
Ice is for injuries
Using ice helps calm damaged tissues that are inflamed, red, hot and swollen. Inflammation is a healthy and natural process, but it can also be painful. Icing is a mild way of dulling the pain or inflammation and bringing the swelling down. If an injury is brand new, using ice can help “calm down” the new injury and bring some relief to the area.
Heat is for muscles, chronic pain, and stress
Heat takes the edge off symptoms like muscle aching and stiffness. Chronic pain, especially back pain, often involves a lot of tension, tightness, anxiety, and sensitization. Applying a comfortable amount of heat to the affected area opens blood vessels. The increased blood flow aids in the healing process and relieves at least some of the pain.
Choose Heat or Ice Carefully
As much as using ice and heat can help injuries, it can also be harmful if used incorrectly. Heat can make inflammation significantly worse and ice can aggravate symptoms of tightness and stiffness. Both can also increase the level of pain when they are unwanted. Icing when you are already shivering or applying heat when you are already sweating can be mistaken by the body as a threat, which can actually make the pain worse.
When using ice, you want to be careful when it comes to muscle pain. Sometimes you may think an area is injured, but it may just be achy muscles. You can also occasionally have painfully sensitive spots called trigger points, which can be intense and easily mistaken for an injury or inflammation. But, if you end up icing a trigger point, it can burn and ache even more. The most common times people tend to make this mistake is when experiencing neck or low back pain.
Applying heat to inflammation is something else you have to be cautious of. If you add heat to a freshly injured area that is already swollen and inflamed, it is only going to further stimulate the inflammation and become more painful.
When In Doubt, Always Listen to Your Body
Both heat and ice can be effective when used correctly and on the right type of injury. The most important thing to remember is to use whichever method feels best to you. If you are already warm and the thought of adding more heat to an area of the body doesn’t sound pleasing, don’t do it. Or if you are already chilled and adding ice doesn’t sound ideal, you don’t have to do that either. Listen to your body. It knows what it's doing.
When Heat and Ice Don't Work
Heat and ice are effective at relieving pain caused by common issues like minor injuries and aching muscles. Generally, this type of pain should go away on its own after a bit of rest and TLC. However, if you are experiencing new onset pain that has not subsided after three weeks (with or without applying heat or ice), you may want to consider having your pain examined by a healthcare professional.
The providers at Twin Cities Pain Clinic are specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of both acute and chronic pain. If you would like to speak to someone or schedule an appointment, contact us today.