There seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to the HEAT or ICE debate. I am going to help explain the proper usage of ice vs heat today. I want to start out by saying this recommendation is a rule of thumb, as there are always exceptions to every rule.
ICE- You typically want to reach into the freezer and grab an ice pack anytime you are dealing with a new injury (less than 72 hours). 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 also want to reach for ice when there is inflammation present.
Inflammation is characterized by five cardinal signs:
- Heat or warmth
- Loss of function
Aches and pains can feel a lot better after using ice for 10-15 minutes, with an hour break in between icing sessions. If you have bad circulation, then cold therapy probably isn’t for you. If you apply ice for too long or directly touching the skin- tissue or nerve damage becomes a possibility.
Heat- heat is the best method for relaxing tight and sore muscles. Whereas ice restricts blood vessels, heat opens them, increasing blood flow to an affected area. This is perfect for most aches and pains, and it’s also great for repairing damaged tissue since increased blood flow stimulates healing. Stiffness and tension can usually be relieved with about 15-20 minutes of heat therapy. Do not feel the burn…when using heat therapy, you want to keep a nice, even warmth. Remember, if you have ANY swelling or bruising, heat isn’t the right call.
But can you use both? Absolutely- However, as I mentioned above, it is important to use ice during the first 48-72 hours immediately following an injury- after that you may alternate between ice and heat every few hours. The rule of thumb is 15 minutes on, 1 hour off when cycling between ice and heat.
Headaches- Some conditions such as headaches respond very well to both heat and ice on different areas of the head and neck. Heat and cold are no risk therapies that anyone can use for headache relief. Let’s talk about using heat first. Heating tight muscles can help relieve a tension type headache, if the small muscles in the back of the head get too tight, (which is a very common cause of headaches). You can start by applying a little heat to the base of the head and neck for 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, for those pulsing, nasty headaches, ice the temples to fight inflammation and relieve throbbing.
Long Term Solution- When it comes to injuries caused by physical activity-cold and heat are very beneficial, but they’re not long-term solutions. A healthy musculoskeletal system is critical to overall health and healing, affecting how the entire body functions. Regular adjustments of the spine help return the body to a normal state by reducing tension as well as pain by activating the body’s natural healing process. Choosing chiropractic as the first line of defense once injured decreases the likelihood surgery and further injury.