What’s Better to Treat My Pain – Heat or Ice?

Let’s be realistic, at some point you’re going to strain a muscle, stretch a ligament or wrench a knee, back or shoulder. It’s life, whether you’re an athlete or just unlucky stepping off a curb.

So, what do you reach for as instant treatment?

Ice? Heat? Both?

Let’s examine the benefits of ice treatment: The chill constricts your blood vessels, which numbs pain, limits bruising and relieves inflammation.

Ice is advisable if you have an acute injury (during the first 72 hours). The initial shock of the cold may be uncomfortable initially, but ice slows the blood flow that can lead to pain and inflammation. Heat, on the other hand, can make acute injuries worse by increasing the blood flow to the affected area.

Usually, it’s recommended to apply ice for up to 20 minutes on and then 20 minutes off. Applying ice treatment longer than that increases the risk of damaging your skin, tissue, and nerves.

You can use an ice pack, a bag of frozen peas, ice cubes in a plastic bag or a frozen gel pack. It’s safe to ice for a few days, until the swelling, inflammation and tenderness have subsided.

Now, let’s examine heat treatment. We all love the coziness that warmth provides us. Heat treatment can be used on injuries that have lingered for more than six weeks or so. Heat increases the blood flow, which relaxes tight muscles and soothes aching joints.

Heat can also benefit your range of motion, so you can use it before stretching or a home exercise program. You can reach for the ice afterward, if necessary, to prevent inflammation flare-ups if that’s a persistent issue for you.

Heat treatment is available in various forms:

Wet heat – Use a bath, shower, hot tub, or whirlpool for treatment. Keep the water warm (93-100 degrees), rather than hot.

Heating pads – Start on a low heat setting to avoid burns. You can always increase the heat. If the area you’re heating becomes uncomfortable, remove the heating pad.

Heat wraps – They’re available at drug stores, and it’s an easy wrap or drape around whatever part of the body needs treatment. They’re effective for travel and work, too.

In most cases, minor stiffness or muscle tension can be relieved with 15-20 minutes of heat therapy.

The healthcare professionals at StarMed Healthcare are here to discuss treatment of any injuries and other health needs. We’re open 365 days a year with walk-ins welcome. To find a location near you, visit starmed.care/locations/