There’s always confusion when it comes to using ice or heat to help treat aches and pains of common exercise injuries such as pulled muscles, knee injuries, sprains, strains and just straight up soreness/tenderness or common tension from work, sitting too much, sleeping wrong etc.
Let’s help put an end to it once and for all! Here’s your “which temperature to use” for care rundown.
As a general rule, always choose ice for injuries and inflammation. Cold restricts blood flow and reduces inflammation and swelling. Whenever there’s bleeding in underlying tissue—think sprains, strains or bruising—ice treatment is the way to go. You can use cold therapy in two ways: immediate or rehabilitation.
Immediate treatment: helps prevent the injured area from becoming stiff by reducing tissue fluid.
Rehabilitation: aims to restore normal function to an affected area by reducing pain and spasms, which in turn allows for better movement.
Dr. Stewart’s rule of thumb for ice: Apply ice pack 20 minutes on and 60 minutes off and repeat. Make certain there is a light towel or t-shirt between the ice pack and the skin…NEVER directly on the skin. When you apply ice, blood natural flows away from the area. When you take the ice off, blood naturally returns to the area to warm the soft tissue. Repeating this on and off creates a fresh blood flow to the area and reduces inflammation.
Heat (It’s summertime in Texas so just walk outside…HA!)
Usually, heat is the best for relaxing—whereas ice restricts blood vessels, heat opens them, increasing blood flow to an affected area. This is perfect for most minor aches and pains. Minor stiffness and tension can usually be relieved with about 10-15 minutes of heat therapy.
When using heat therapy, you want to keep a nice, even warmth. Heat should never cause you to experience swelling or bruising. Never use it near open wounds.
Dr. Stewart’s rule of thumb for heat: You are not a reptile, so do not lay on a heating pad all night long. This simply pools the blood to the area and causes more inflammation.
The Ultimate Treatment
When it comes to minor injuries whether it’s from physical activity or simply getting off the couch, heat or ice therapy can be beneficial, however both are not long-term solutions. A healthy, aligned spine and decreased muscle tension is critical to overall health and healing. Receiving adjustments of the spine help return the body to a normal state, reducing tension and pain by utilizing the body’s natural healing process.