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Heat VS Ice

Fitastic Josh May 20, 2014

When you’re faced with a sports related injury, half of your friends will be adamant that ice is the only way to treat it. The other half will tell you that heat is the way to go.  So, which of them are you supposed to listen to?

While every injury and body is different, there are some general guidelines that should help you make the right call.  Generally, for acute injuries within the first 48-72 hours, ice is recommended.  Ice can help with swelling in these situations.  It’s important to limit swelling when possible, because in addition to limiting mobility it can cause a lot of pain and general discomfort. Ice also tends to constrict blood vessels thus decreasing swelling.  Ice can serve a secondary but also important function: It soothes acute pain. Cold temperatures cause numbness in living tissue. Strategic application of ice can ease your pain when it’s at its worst.  General recommendations would be not to apply ice directly to the skin for no more than ten minutes at a time without taking a break.

Heat is typically more helpful for issues that have occurred over time.  In other words, it’s more likely to be helpful for chronic, reoccurring injuries, and tightness if it is not related to swelling. Heat tends to dilate the muscles, increasing blood flow. This is why you generally don’t want to use heat if there’s swelling. Common sense says not to increase blood flow to an area that’s already overloaded with blood.
Heat is more useful in instances of stiffness (again, when not related to swelling) when mobility and/or range of motion is somewhat limited.  Naturally, too much heat is another good way to damage your skin (ever heard of something called burning?), so similar to ice, it’s best to cycle the application of heat on and off, though you can generally go for periods up to 20 minutes up to half an hour (think jacuzzi). If your skin becomes red, inflamed, or painful, stop and use a lower temperature for a shorter amount of time.

Know how and when to treat your “injury” with Ice and Heat

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