Ice or heat?
There is a lot of confusion around the topic of when to use ice on an injury or heat. Using ice or heat is a cheap, easy, and safe treatment option to help with many common issues. The question is, when do you use heat and when do you use ice.
Ice is for injuries.
Using ice helps calm down damaged superficial tissues that are inflamed, red, hot and swollen. Inflammation is a healthy, normal, and natural process, but it can also be painful. Icing is a mild way of dulling the pain or inflammation and taking the swelling down a bit. If an injury is brand new, using ice can help “calm down” the new injury and bring some relief to the area.
Heat is for muscles, chronic pain, and stress.
Heat takes the edge off symptoms like muscle aching and stiffness. Chronic pain, especially back pain, often involves lots of tension, tightness, anxiety, and sensitization. Comfortable heat can help soothe the nervous system and calm the mind.
As much as using ice and heat can help injuries, it can also harm some injuries if used in the wrong aspect. Heat can make inflammation significantly worse and ice can aggravate symptoms of tightness and stiffness. Both can also just make any pain worse when it’s unwanted. Icing when you are already shivering or applying heat when you are already sweating can be mistaken by the body as a threat, which can actually make the pain worse. To most, ice seems to feel more threatening.
When using ice, you want to be careful when it comes to muscle pain. Sometimes you may think an area is injured, but it may just be muscle pain. You can occasionally have trigger points, painfully sensitive spots, which can be intense and easily mistaken for an injury or inflammation that can be iced. But, if you end up icing a trigger point, it can burn and ache even more. The most common areas people tend to make this mistake is with neck or low back pain.
Heat with inflammation is another area you have to be cautious of. If you add heat to a fresh injury, it is going to get worse. If you heat a freshly injured area that is already swollen and inflamed, it is only going to swell up more and become more painful.
Both heat and ice can be effective when used correctly and on the right type of injury. The most important thing to remember is to use whichever method feels best to you. If you are already warm and the thought of adding more heat to an area of the body doesn’t sound pleasing, don’t do it. Or if you are already chill and adding ice doesn’t sound ideal, you don’t have to do that either. You can always start using one method and if you don’t like it, switch to the other.
The main thing is to always listen to your body!