When To Use Heat vs. Ice For Pain Relief

One of the most common conversations that I have with a patient goes something like this:

Patient:  “I picked up my ____________ and felt something in my back go out.  I immediately put a heating pad on it and it seemed to feel better but then later the pain got worse.”

Doctor Price: “…ok, and then what did you do?”

Patient: “Well, I put the heating pad on it and it started feeling a little better, but by the time I went to bed I was in agony, the pain was up to a 10/10..”

Doctor Price:  “….wow, sounds miserable, then what happened?”

Patient: “Well, I slept on my heating pad, and I when this morning finally came around, I couldn’t move, and knew I needed to call you to come in.”

Does this conversation sound familiar to you?

Unfortunately, sometimes the right thing to do is counter-intuitive.

For example, whenever we have an acute injury, sometimes we feel like it would help to put heat on the area to “loosen it up.”

While this seems to make sense, more times than not, putting heat on an acute injury actually makes the pain worse.

So what do  you need to know, and when is it appropriate to use heat vs. ice?

Watch todays post to get all of the details….

An acute injury is an injury that has lasted for less than 72 hours.  The general rule of thumb is that for an acute injury, you want to use ice.  The best way to do this is to wrap an ice pack with a thin wet towel and place it on the painful area for 15 minutes on and then 15 minutes off.

The reason that this works best is when you have an acute injury, the body responds by rushing blood and inflammatory agents to the injured part of the body, in an attempt to protect the injured joint by preventing more movement.

For example, we have all sprained an ankle before, and seen the ankle swell up almost immediately.   This is the body’s way of stopping you from running or walkin on the ankle so that it cannot be injured further.

So the point of the ice is to help limit that inflammation.

After an injury has been present for 72 hours, and has not resolved itself, then we move into a “chronic injury.”  A chronic injury is anything from 72 hours on….

When dealing with a chronic injury, I usually recommend to patients that they begin with contrast therapy, in which they will put ice on for 15 minutes immediately followed by heat.  This will help maintain any inflammation but also allow the blood flow to be returned to the joint without an over inflammatory response.

After the patient has determined that they will have a good response to the heat without an increase in pain, then the patient can move into using only heat in 15 minute increments.

It is never recommended that the patient sleep on a heating pad.  Not only can it be a fire hazard if it is electric, but also you risk burning yourself or causing an overinflammatory response to occur again.

The important thing to remember is that by keeping your spine in line and your nervous system functioning through regular spinal adjustments, and making sure that your body is not in an inflammatory state by following a good nutrition program, you give your body the best chance of avoiding injury in the first place.

If you find yourself injured, contact us immediately to make sure what the right steps are to follow.  If you follow the guidelines above, as a general rule, you will be doing the right thing, but remember, everyone is different, so always contact either our office or your primary care physician before you apply any therapy.


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