The age-old debate rages on: do you ice or heat after an injury? You can ask twenty different medical providers and you may get twenty different answer to this same question. This article will help clarify any confusion surrounding this hotly debated topic (pun intended).
Let’s first take a look at icing. The most common answer you will get when asking about why we should ice is something along the lines of: to control inflammation and therefore decrease swelling. This seems logical. Ice creates vaso-constriction (narrowing of small blood vessels). Cells recruited during the inflammatory process are transported to an injured area through the blood stream. Constricting the blood vessels transporting these cells decreases the swelling which controls” the amount of inflammation in an area. Inflammation will also initiate the pain signal.
We recommend icing an injured area during the first 24-48 hours after the onset of the injury. This is the peak inflammatory stage and will help control the amount of swelling and pain.
As soon as you are out of the inflammatory stage it may be appropriate to introduce heat. Heat will increase the amount of blood flow, which in turn will help the muscle warm up. As an injury heals, especially if it is a soft-tissue injury (e.g. muscle, tendon or ligament), it is typically beneficial to heat the injury before exercise. Heat has a way of “prepping” the muscle by increasing blood flow. The nerves are better able to prepare for movement with heat. Stimulated warm muscles are able to absorb more energy while being used 1. This may help prevent further injury.
There are clearly benefits to both treatments. We recommend the following:
- New injuries (within 24-48 hours): Ice 20 minutes at a time with an hour break
- Healing Injuries (48 hours-3 months): Alternate between ice and heat 20 minutes at a time with an hour break in between each treatment
- Old Injuries (more than 3 months): Heat 20 minutes at a time with an hour break
- Place a paper towel or thin cloth between your skin and the ice. This will help prevent frost bite
- Place a towel between you and the heat pack to avoid burns
- Jarvinen TAH, Javinen TLN, Kaariainen M et al. Muscle injuries: biology and treatment. Am J Sports Med 2005;33(5):745-64.
About Elite Chiropractic & Performance Center
Located just outside of Salt Lake City and in the heart of the Salt Lake Valley, Elite Chiropractic & Performance Center is the premier chiropractic office in Utah. Drs. Monte Layton, Jeremy Wimmer, Chris Harbrecht and Jordan Mousley specialize in providing care for many different conditions and injuries. Those in the community seek Elite’s care for low back pain, neck pain, shoulder, knee, elbow, wrist, hip, ankle, and foot pain. Call today to schedule your first appointment. 801-432-7511.