Ice or Heat? What to use?

An answer to an age old question with new twist.

General rule after an injury is immediately apply ice on the affected area for 20 minutes. The benefits are to reduce pain and swelling. Pain reduction occurs via slowing the neuro pathways and swelling reduction is vasoconstriction which decreases of blood flow. Ice is widely used up to the first 72 hours after the injury.

Heat reduces pain and swelling with the same neuro pathway as ice. Heat creates vasodilation, increased blood flow, which decreases swelling thus reducing pain. Heat has the added benefit of reducing muscle spasm when used for 20 minutes.

A word of caution just because heat feels good longer applying heat more than 20 minutes can actually increase swelling .

Some specialists are using heat immediately following an injury, BUT only for 5 – 10 minutes. The vasodilation increases blood flow which brings cells to heal the injured area. This typically is followed immediately with ice for 20 minutes.

Educating you in better health,
Dr. John