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When Should I Use Ice or Heat?

The question of whether to use ice or heat is very common and both can be helpful or may create further damage if used incorrectly. The first step is to understand that neither ice nor heat fixes the problem, they just reduce the symptoms. They do not restore motion, rebuild tissue damage or retrain the nervous system. And making the wrong choice will stop your body from healing.

They can however have a powerful impact on the pain mechanism. Remember the pain mechanism can be either; 1) inflammation, 2) muscle spasm or 3) nerve irritation or damage.

As inflammation is red hot and inflamed ice helps to cool and stem the chemicals that inflammation uses to create the red hot effect. These chemicals can create damage so, just like a burn, the sooner you apply ice after the injury the better things will be. This usually applies to a traumatic injury, being struck with a golf club or after a fall.

If an injury is new the a general rule of thumb is that ice will help.

If an injury is new the a general rule of thumb is that ice will help.

The general advice is that ice is great for up to 72 hours after a traumatic injury.

Muscle spasm is a guarding reflex where the muscles of the body lock down and can be excruciatingly painful. This is usually a result of another underlying injury that has been dormant for sometime. Often clients will report these severe cases following a trivial episode such as getting out of a car. The pain does not seem to be relative to the event (trivial episode).

Nerve damage can be either a traumatic injury where the nerve itself in damaged and inflamed (ice will help) or a longer term injury whereby an increase in blood supply will aid healing (heat may be helpful).

This is where the idea of a chronic or acute injury come in. If an injury is new the a general rule of thumb is that ice will help. If it is more than 48 to 72 hours old, heat is best. Please note that there are always exceptions to this so call Dr Wilson, Inspired Chiropractic Norwich, if you are unsure.

Getting professional advice is often best as many times it is not a clear issue.

Use of Ice:

  • Buy two proper Ice Packs (the ones we sell can get hyper cold and are worth it). You will need to change them over and return to first one to the freezer.
  • Always keep the ice packs in the freezer for emergencies, freezing them after an injury takes hours.
  • Always wrap the pack in thin paper towels so that the plastic does not touch the skin.
  • You can burn yourself easily with ice so after 10 minutes have a 5 minute break to allow blood to return to the area.
  • Use of Heat: You are more likely to hurt yourself with heat than with ice.
  • Use a heat pack that you can microwave or a hot water bottle. Change your hot water bottle annually; they perish and can burn badly.
  • Ensure that you have a towel between you and the heat to reduce the chance of burning.
  • Apply for 10—20 minutes then break for at least half an hour before reapplying.
  • Movement is very important with heat and you need to move regularly.

Remember it is not always easy to know when to use ice or heat so call for advice if you are unsure. If it looks wrong or feels wrong stop and call Inspired Chiropractic in Norwich.

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