Should I use heat or ice

Should I use ice or heat?

Should I use ice or heat is a common question when we see people with musculoskeletal pain. Often we see patients that have been putting hot packs on their injuries before they have come in (because a ‘well meaning’ friend or relative said they should!) and it is only making their condition worse.

When tissues are injured they become inflamed. This is the body’s natural way of controlling and healing the injury, however the body can often go overboard and the inflammation itself causes a lot of pain and discomfort.

Most of the time when we feel pain there is inflammation. Ice or cold packs can be very useful in reducing inflammation; heat on the other hand usually brings more blood to the area and will often irritate inflammation. Sometimes we see patients who have taken anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce the pain, but have been placing heat packs on the area making it difficult for the medication to work well.

Heat and hot packs are very good at bringing extra blood to the tissues. This can be very useful if for example the muscles are very stiff from sitting at the computer too long or you wake up generally achy after gardening all weekend
(but without a specific sharp pain anywhere). It can also be good for chronic problems where extra blood supply to the area can sometimes be helpful.

The only way to be sure is for your Osteopath to have a look at the problem so that they understand exactly what is going on and then they will able to advise you, but as a general rule.

  • Acute onset of pain usually involves significant inflammation and requires ice.
  • Visible swelling or bruising requires ice.
  • Sports injuries require ice
  • If in doubt don’t use heat.
  • Always get advice from a health professional who is qualified to diagnose your condition properly

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