Ice or Heat? What’s the Difference?

IceApplying ice or heat to aches and pains is usually the first line of defense at home. After all, it’s economical, easy and at your fingertips.  But sometimes you may not know which is better to apply in a particular situation.  Here’s an easy guide to help you figure out if you need ice or heat for what’s ailing you.

Cold As Ice

Ice should be your go-to with any acute injury involving inflammation, pain and swelling. Ice works by contracting the blood vessels which then can help to numb pain, reduce bruising and inflammation.  Heat can actually be harmful if used instead of ice because it can make inflammation worse.  Gout flare ups, sports injuries such as strains and sprains and migraines should all be treated with ice.  In general, injuries less than six weeks old call for ice.

You can treat injuries with ice in a few different ways.  Cold packs are easy to come by, just grab that frozen bag of peas from your freezer or fill a plastic bag with ice cubes and apply it to the affected area. For headaches, gel masks that you can purchase at your neighborhood drugstore can be stored in the freezer, or simply soak a towel in cold water and place it over your forehead and temples.  The general rule of thumb is intervals of 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off to treat.

The Heat Is On

Any long term injury or chronic condition such as arthritis should be treated with heat.  Moist heat helps to loosen injured muscles because it increases blood flow to the injured area.  For long term pain, moist heat can also help to lessen pain in the joints.  Any injury over 6 weeks old can be treated with moist heat.

Heat can be applied by taking a hot shower or a dip in the hot tub.  Be careful not to get too hot, as the ideal temperature is between 92 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you go too hot, you could risk burning yourself. Probably best not to add more discomfort to an already uncomfortable situation! Heat packs or heating pads can be purchased at the drug store and applied to the area in need.  As with cold, you want 20 minutes on and then 20 minutes off.  If the heat becomes uncomfortable before the 20 minutes is up, feel free to take it off early.  

So there you have it, the skinny on ice versus heat.  Now go forth and sing that song of ice and fire!

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This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of The Joint Corp (or its franchisees and affiliates). You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.