Much like the Apple vs. Android debate, ice vs. heat when it comes to treating an injury is an equally consuming argument. Everywhere you look, you’ll more than likely find a different opinion than the previous search result. So as someone who isn’t medically trained, how do you figure what to do if you suffer an injury? This month’s blog post is here to help. In the article below we’ll discuss the benefits of using ice and heat to treat an injury as well as some precautionary measures to take when treating any injury. And as always, while you’re reading or once you’ve finished, if you have any questions, we encourage you to reach out to us by phone, email or on social media.

First Things First…

Let’s start by clearing the air surrounding this argument. Contrary to what many people believe, ice vs. heat is not an apples to apples comparison. Each offers their own unique benefits and its why they’re better suited than the other for treating different types of injuries. Yes, in some cases, both ice and heat may apply to injury, but in these cases, we recommend a combination of both methods because of their unique benefits.

Using Ice to Treat an Injury

Ice treatment is ideal for acute injuries— these are one-time injuries like sprains and strains, and they are typically best treated with ice if you’ve suffered your injury within the past 48 hours. Ice treatment helps treat an injury by minimizing the swelling around it and reducing the amount of bleeding in the affected tissues. On top of this, icing also helps reduce muscle spasms and pain.

Although we said ice treatment is best suited for treating acute injuries it can also be used to treat chronic conditions caused by overuse. This is especially common in athletes like baseball pitchers, tennis players, etc. and is the reason you’ll often see professionals on TV with ice taped to a specific area of their body. In these instances, the ice is being used to help control any possible inflammation. It’s incredibly important, however, to never ice a chronic injury before an activity. Ice treatment should be reserved for after and should only be used as a preventative measure.

Ice Should Be Used To Treat:

  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations
  • Sport-induced chronic injuries (overuse injuries)

Using Heat to Treat an Injury

Heat treatment, on the other hand, is the go-to option for treating chronic (overuse) injuries. These injuries are typically caused by repetitive movements or actions and are often the injuries that athletes and desk or assembly line workers experience. Heat treatment works in the opposite way that ice treatment does. Where ice is focused on reducing, heat treatment’s primary focus is to loosen up (expand) muscles and tissue and stimulate blood flow. When you stop to think about it, heat and ice treatments both follow the laws of chemistry (ice shrinks, heat expands). Because heat treatment stimulates blood flow and draws more blood to the affected area, it is not to be used for acute injuries where swelling is involved. Swelling is caused by the buildup of blood and heating this area will only draw more blood to it and make the swelling worse. And unlike ice treatment whereafter activity usage is beneficial, heat treatment should only be used before an activity and never after.

Applying heat to an injury isn’t as simple as filling a bag with ice cubes or pulling a freezer pack out of the freezer. Instead, heat treatment is only provided by more substantial options. You can use heating pads, hot water bottles or even a towel that has been soaked in warm water. The key when using heat is to use warm water to avoid burning the skin. You should also never leave heating pads and other heat treatments on for long periods or fall asleep with them on.

Heat Should be Used to Treat:

  • Tendon pains
  • Bone pains
  • Joint pains
  • Shin splints
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Tendonitis
  • And more!

Things to Remember

Although we’ve drawn a clear line in the sand between the two injury treatments, there are still some things you need to remember before icing or heating any injury.

Seek Professional Guidance

As simple as applying ice or heat to an injury may seem, you should still get a professional opinion before treating any injury. This not only gives them a chance to diagnose a more serious injury early on, but it will also make sure you’re using the appropriate treatment for your specific injury. On top of this, health care professionals have years of experience treating various injuries, and so they will be able to help you place the ice or heat in the best spot as well as share any tips and tricks they’ve picked up over the years.

These Are NOT Substitutes for Professional Treatment

While icing and heating are suitable treatments for minor injuries, they should never replace professional treatment. Often what seems like a minor injury could be something more serious and if not treated correctly could affect you for the rest of your life. If your injury lasts longer than 48 hours, then we strongly suggest you schedule an appointment with our team or someone else to have a health care professional examine it. Ice and heat may not be suitable for treating your injury, and you may require Physiotherapy, Acupuncture, Massage Therapy or some other form of treatment that must be provided by someone with the proper training.

We hope we’ve provided you with some clarification when it comes to the age-old ice vs. heat injury treatment argument. And as we mentioned above, it’s not quite as simple as choosing one or the other. If you have any questions about which treatment you should be using, or about any of the information above, we encourage you to reach out to us by phone, email or on social media. Until next month, live well!