Thursday, 11 January 2018 19:14

Ice vs Heat - What is better for your pain?

By Dr. Kevy Smith | Families Today
Ice vs Heat - What is better for your pain?

Knowing when to ice an injury and when to apply heat can be a rather confusing task.  Both ice and heat, also known as cryotherapy and thermotherapy, can be cheap, easy and effective ways of relieving pain and reducing symptoms of various injuries.  However, there are instances when either treatment can do more harm than good. 


Cold therapy works by constricting the blood vessels in a particular area, thereby restricting blood flow to that area.  This in turn can help reduce swelling and inflammation.  Ice also temporarily reduces nerve activity which can alleviate localized pain.

When to apply ice:
- Acute injuries
- Ligament sprains
- Muscle strains
- Swelling/Inflammation
- Tendonitis
- Carpal Tunnel
- Inflammatory arthritis

There are various methods of applying ice to an injury.  These include ice packs or frozen gel packs which can be wrapped in a light dish towel and placed over the affected area.  Ice baths can be very effective in treating larger areas or ankle/foot injuries.

Ice should be applied for no more than 15-20 minutes at a time and can be done every 1-2 hours.

When NOT to apply ice:
- Poor circulation
- Sensory deficits
- Diabetic neuropathies
- Stiff muscles or joints


Heat therapy, not surprisingly, has the opposite effect of ice therapy.  Heat therapy improves circulation and blood flow by dilating blood vessels in the area.  Heat can relieve stiffness in joints, relax tight muscles and increase flexibility.  It can also help heal damaged tissue by promoting blood flow to the area. 

When to apply heat:
- Chronic pain or muscle tightness
- Acute muscle soreness from over-exertion
- Joint stiffness related to osteoarthritis
- Trigger points
- Cramps

Heat therapy comes in several forms.  Dry heat includes dry heating pads, and saunas.  Moist heat includes moist heating packs, steamed towels, steam rooms, hot tubs, hot baths or showers. 

Heat can be applied for up to 30-45 minutes at a time.

When NOT to apply heat:
- Acute injury
- Inflammation
- Swelling
- Sensory deficits
- Diabetic neuropathies
- Dermatitis
- Vascular disease
- Deep Vein Thrombosis
- Multiple Sclerosis

Dr. Kevy Smith is a chiropractor in Saratoga Springs providing non-surgical treatment of spinal disorders and sports-related injuries.  For more information please visit or call 518-587-2064.

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