Ice or Heat

Heat or Ice?

When should you apply heat? When should you use ice? Confusion abounds about these simple, yet helpful, procedures. Use heat in the wrong circumstances and you can make the problem worse. Here’s what to do and when to do it:

Think back to high school chemistry. How do you slow down a reaction? You make it cool. So, if you’re trying to reduce the inflammation resulting from a new injury, use ice. Ice constricts blood vessels, helping to avoid muscle spasms and reduce swelling. It can also slow nerve transmission of painful symptoms. Ice, when used properly, becomes a natural local anesthetic. Apply an ice pack for short periods of time (15 to 20 minutes). Allow an equal amount of time between applications of ice so you don't compound the problem by risking frostbite!

On the other hand, if you want to speed up a reaction, add heat. Topical (or tropical!) heat can help increase blood circulation and help improve flexibility. If you have a history of chronic, long-standing joint and muscle stiffness, it can show temporary improvement with the application of moist heat or a hot bath. Just avoid the dry heat of a heating pad.