HEAT or ICE, which is best???

by Dan Lambourne | May 24th 2019

Does the thought of using an ICE pack or hot water bottle when injured leave you feeling alittle confused or worried? If so, you won’t be the only one, and here at The House Clinics Bristol we have a team of professionals that can advise you on the best course of action whether it’s a sprained ankle, sciatica, or just tight neck and shoulders. But which one is best???


A very general rule of thumb to follow is to use ICE in the first 48 hours or injury or trauma, this will reduce the blood flow to the area decreasing any inflammation as well as any swelling. HEAT on the other hand will increase the blood flow which will help to ease tight and sore muscles, this can follow afterwards. Do not use HEAT to an area that is already warm to the touch.


Cold Therapy

So why do we suggest ICE in the first instance you may ask? Well, when we are the victim of a sudden injury such as a sprained ankle or muscle tear this is normally accompanied by bruising, swelling, and inflammation in and around the surrounding area. By applying a form of cold therapy these 3 symptoms can be reduced by constricting the blood vessels and restricting the blood flow. As you are probably aware ICE also has a numbing affect which will help to reduce the feeling of pain. Cold therapy should be used for 3-5 days following an acute injury.


Heat Therapy

When muscles become sore and stiff their ability to contract and relax reduces combined with us consciously trying to avoid movement around that joint. This will lead to a reduced blood flow through those muscles and so we enter a vicious circle. I previously mentioned that ICE constricts (makes smaller) blood vessels so as you might expect heat has the opposite effect. Hot therapy promotes the dilation of the blood vessels which will allow for an increase in blood flow into the area bringing with it more oxygen and nutrients. Increased circulation will naturally relax tight muscles and help to flush out bi-products such as lactic acid that may build up.


Can I do damage?

It’s important to remember that as much as it is good to use hot and cold, and yes we encourage you to use these methods at home at aid your recovery there are some rules that you MUST abide by so that you don’t make this worse or slow the recovery process down.

  1. DO NOT use hot or cold therapy on an open wound.
  2. DO NOT use hot or cold therapy if you are experiencing numbness to the area.
  3. DO NOT apply cold therapy directly to the skin, use a thin barrier such as paper towel or a thin layer of fabric.
  4. If the area is hot to the touch, red, OR inflamed DO USE cold therapy.
  5. Hot therapy CAN be used before activity, Cold therapy CANNOT be used before activity.

If you are at all in doubt, then speak to your professional or give us a call. Even if you haven’t seen one of the team of Chiropractors, Physiotherapists, or Sports Therapists we would always be happy to advise you on the best course of action over the phone, prior to coming in for treatment. Catching things early and starting the right course of treatment as soon as possible can go a long way to significantly reducing your recovery time and getting you back to full health. Don’t delay, get in contact today by calling 0117 9420200 or visit www.thehouseclinics.co.uk

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