Life fact: Everyone gets hurt sometimes.
It can be anything from a turned ankle to a stiff lower back--and of course these pesky injuries always pop up when you least expect them.
Ice and heat are both commonly used to treat injuries. But did you know that if you use the wrong one, you can actually make your situation worse? To find out the right way to treat an injury, let's take a look at the effectiveness of both methods and when you should use them.
When To Use Ice
Ice is for fresh injuries, and helps calm down damaged tissues that are inflamed, red, hot, or swollen. Ice is most commonly used for acute injuries like a pulled muscle or sprain. Use ice quickly! It helps to stop swelling around your injury, reduce internal bleeding, and reduce muscle spasms.
You can also use ice to treat overuse injuries. Just be sure you're applying the ice after a physical activity--like how a football player might use an ice bath after a game.
Remember to keep the ice moving. Don't just place it in one spot on the injured area. Ice packs like this Reusable Gel Park are effective. A bag of frozen peas can also work as a kind of "makeshift" ice pack because the small chunks surround the affected area for consistent coverage.
Whatever you use for ice, never treat for more than 30 minutes. And don't use ice for muscle pain. This is a typical mistake for back and neck pain. If you ice those spots, you may end up aching even more.
When To Use Heat
If you have tightness or soreness, use heat. It helps take the edge off the pain for chronic injuries like back pain and muscle aches. Why? Because heat loosens and relaxes your muscles and stimulates blood flow.
There are also mental benefits to using heat. Often times issues like back pain bring on anxiety, stress, and tension that can affect your mood and mental well-being. Heat is a useful tool before getting a massage. It can soothe and comfort your body as well as your mind.
If you don't have a heating pad, you can microwave a wet towel or cloth bag of rice.
You don't want to use heat immediately after you get an injury because it will only make the swelling and pain worse. When using heat treatments be cautious--only use a moderate heat for a limited time to avoid burns. Never leave heating pads or towels on for an extended period of time.
Which Is Better?
In general, remember that ice is for immediate injuries and heat is for chronic conditions. The effects of both ice and heat are typically mild because neither one is a "strong" medicine. Studies have shown that both have limited benefits, and those benefits are roughly equal in treating pain.
The reason to use ice and heat is that they're cheap, available, easy to use, and generally safe for anyone!
It comes down to what feels best for you, so let your body be the tie-breaker. If you're already feeling warm, adding heat is not going to do you any good. If you have a chill, you're not going to want ice. So if one method isn't working try switching to the other.