A common question I get asked is what should I use ice or heat after an injury?
But what happens when you use ice and heat?
Ice and heat effects are bodies differently by affecting the blood vessels. When we use ice our blood
vessels constrict and become smaller which helps to reduce pain and swelling. Ice is best to be used
after an acute injury or acute episode of pain when there is swelling to help reduce inflammation.
Our body creates inflammation in our response to injury to help us in the healing process. Using ice
can help reduce this inflammation and swelling which helps to reduce your pain.
Heat does the opposite and it makes the blood vessels dilate and become larger and wider which
allows more blood to the area bringing more nutrients and oxygen which allows your muscles to
relax. Using heat can be more beneficial for chronic pain, long lasting pain and help to relax those
However, heat is not always the answer as if we work our joints too much and your pain is deep
within the joint your body will increase blood flow to start the healing process however due to the
increased blood flow this can then cause swelling and the joint may feel very warm. Our body will
then try and protect our joint and the muscles around the joint will tighten up. So if you were to
apply heat it will relax the muscles but as soon as you remove the heat they will tighten up again as
it is still the joint that they are protecting which is inflamed, and due to the joint being inflamed you
will be increasing blood flow double the amount that may be needed, this can worsen your pain
But if you were to apply ice to this inflamed joint this will help to reduce the blood flow to help
decrease inflammation around the joint and as soon as the inflammation starts to decrease so will
the muscles as the body will start to relax further.
It is important to remember to not put any ice directly onto your skin, either to use an ice pack or to
use crushed ice cubes wrapped up into a tea towel so there is layer between the ice and your skin to
avoid any ice burns. When using ice, it is best to not use for any longer than 15-20 mins, but to use
the ice for 10 minutes and to have a 10-minute break and then repeat. This is similar when using
heat, you want to have a layer between your skin and a heat pack to help avoid any burns!