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When to Ice and When to Heat?


Icing and heating are common practices with various types muscle pain and injuries, but knowing when to use which can be quite confusing and if done wrong may actually cause more harm than good. The general rule of thumb has been that you should ice fresh injuries and apply heat to stiff and achy muscles or areas with chronic pain.  This seems pretty straight forward, but I can’t tell you how many times people come in and have pain due to inflammation and have been using heat on it because they were told to use heat after the first 48 hours.

Icing injuries can help reduce inflammation and dull the pain by calming down the tissue that is swollen, hot, and irritated. It can also reduce or prevent secondary damage to the tissue and future tissue scarring. So, in the case of a freshly pulled muscle, a strain, or sprain you would want to use ice to naturally relieve the pain and irritation, but also try to prevent further related problems. When you ice, don’t apply the ice pack directly to the skin because the cold can cause skin burns. Also, try to only use it for 20 minutes or less every 2 hours and be sure to remove the ice pack before you go to sleep.

If you have stiff, aching muscles, chronic pain, and are under a lot of stress, applying heat to the area of pain can take the edge off. If there are points that trigger your pain or if you have a lot of tension and anxiety, heating can soothe you and reduce the amount of pain you feel. There are two ways you can apply heat: dry heat or wet heat. Dry heating options include hot water bottles, electric heating pads, and saunas and wet heating options include steamed towel wraps, hot baths, and whirlpools. Both methods are effective but many people feel that wet heating treatments provide the most relief for their deep pain. When you heat, be sure you are using a warm temperature and not a very hot temperature because this could cause injuries and increase any inflammation. The length of time you heat depends on the kind of injury and the area being treated.

A word of caution: both icing and heating can do harm when used incorrectly. Heating can increase inflammation if used on a fresh injury or when you are already hot, and ice can make symptoms of muscle tightness and stiffness worse. It is always best to get medical advice before treating if you are unsure.  Please feel free to call the office and Dr. Derik will ensure you are receiving the best care for your needs.

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