Ice vs Heat for Injury/Pain
This is a common question I hear as it can be difficult to know which treatment is better. Truth be told, they are both great treatments and have a place in your self-care routine both for prevention and treatment of aches and pains.
The general rule is to choose ice for an acute discomfort, and heat for something more chronic.
An acute injury is anything that occurs following an activity, such as an athletic event, and generally lasts a few hours to a couple of days. Think of a sprained ankle, and the amount of swelling present. Ice works to decrease the inflammation causing the swelling, thus decreasing the amount of pain present.
A chronic injury refers to a pain that is present more than 72 hours after the initial incident, and can last months to years. An example of a chronic injury is neck and shoulder tension felt by someone that spends a lot of time working on their computer. Increasing the amount of blood flowing to the area with heat helps to increase circulation, thus helping to relax a tight muscle. While this seems to work for most individuals, some prefer one or the other for all types of aches.
Ice vs Heat for Athletes
Athletes often choose to use ice as a preventative treatment, knowing that they will decrease soreness from a tough workout by taking the time to ice the area post workout. You don’t need an ice bath at home to get the benefit of ice therapy: simply fill small cups with water and freeze. Peel half of the cup away and viola: ice massage! Heat works wonders on a stiff, tight lower back and often allows stretching and workouts to occur pain free. A hot bath is a great way to unwind and relax your muscles after a long day.
While using ice and/or heat to treat pain can be helpful, it generally works best in conjunction with other treatments such as chiropractic manipulation, physical therapy, massage, and light stretching.