What to use when:
With the weather becoming increasingly colder… it is hard to break the ice pack out of the freezer and apply it to whichever body part is nagging for attention. Heat is certainly a more appealing form of therapy, but when it is it ok to use heat rather than ice?
To answer this, first we need to look at acute v’s chronic. An acute injury occurs generally via a sudden trauma-a fall or a bump. Chronic injury is an injury that has occurred over time – a repetitive-use injury, or an acute injury that hasn’t healed and continues to give pain long after it first occurred.
Ideally, it is recommended to use ice for an acute injury and heat for a chronic or prolonged injury. Therefore, ice therapy is advised for sports muscle injuries (one of the most commonly occurring injuries) and heat therapy is generally more effective for chronic muscle injuries.
- It’s most effective when applied within the first 48 hours of incurring an injury.
- It’s application helps reduce swelling and also helps in decreasing pain.
- It is important to promptly seek clinical advice and have the injury examined.
- Ice can be used for up to 5-7 days after the trauma occurred.
- Ice should be applied for up to 20 minutes, and can be reapplied every 1-3 hours.
- It is important to note that the skin should be left to return to a normal temperature before reapplying.
- Ice can be applied by using either an ice pack or packet of frozen peas wrapped in a towel.
- Heat therapy can be applied for 15-20 minutes, or for as long as can be tolerated.
- Heat can be applied using either a wheat bag or heat pack.
- Care must be taken if using a hot water bottle, especially if compressing it, as any leakage could burn the skin.
- Do not use a heat pack that is too hot. Use caution as to avoid damaging the skin.
For more information on protocols for heat or ice therapy please contact us directly.
Muscle injuries: optimising recovery. Järvinen TA, Järvinen TL et al. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2007 Apr; 21(2):317-31.