What to Use for Injury/Pain? Ice? Heat? We Give You the Scoop on What to Use – and When

When you’re struggling with pain and/or injury, it can be tricky to know whether to reach for your ice pack or if you should fire up your heating pad. Each method is a tool in your home-treatment tool box; and knowing when to use which one can make the difference in helping your body recover faster – or even slowing down healing. We give some pointers on if you should heat things up or play it cool…

What “Feels” Best May be Wrong

Although it may be tempting (especially in colder weather) to reach for your heating pad or hop in a hot bath, that might not be the best immediate treatment – especially depending on the nature of your problem. Many people prefer using heat instead of ice because it’s soothing, relaxing, and often just plain feels better. An important thing to remember is that while you’re ultimately hoping to feel better, using heat or ice is part of trying to treat a larger problem. Try to think of it more like any other item you’d keep in your medicine chest or first aid box.

Basic Guidelines

According to Healthline, one general guideline that may help is that cold therapy is indicated for acute injuries, pain, and inflammation while heat is used for tight and/or sore muscles. By understanding what each form of treatment does, you can also determine what might work best for each situation. Ice will help reduce swelling and act as a pain reliever while heat improves blood flow to the area and can loosen and relax areas of stiffness. If you roll your ankle on a hike, ice should be your go-to treatment while if you suffer from a chronic stiff back, heat may give you more relief. In the example of the twisted ankle, you can see how ice would help with any swelling and adding heat could actually be counterproductive.

The Best of Both Worlds

There are times when alternating cold and hot therapy can be beneficial. After an injury moves from the acute phase and you’re working on both decreasing pain/irritation and regaining flexibility, alternating periods of cold and heat can be ideal. In specific cases a health care provider, such as a physical therapist, may suggest using an ice pack for 15 minutes followed by a heating pad for 15 minutes and some gentle stretches. Depending on the situation, it can be tricky to know if this combo therapy is the right approach – so be sure to check with your provider before trying alternating cold/heat treatment.

Using heat and cold therapy at home can be very beneficial, as long as you’re doing it properly. Body One Physical Therapy is a locally-owned practice, with a highly-trained team of caring providers who can guide you on proper recovery and at-home care. With three locations in central Indiana, you’ll find one that best fits you: North Indianapolis, Fishers, and Zionsville. We’re ready to help you live your best life!

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