Should I Use Ice or Heat?

Carpal Tunnel and wrist pain
Carpal Tunnel

Often when you see one of us at MOVE Osteopathy we will advise simple things you can do yourself to help your injury recover quickly. I have lost count of people that we have seen 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.

So many people have asked us “So when do I use heat and when do I use ice?” It’s a good question and much easier to give a definite answer when we can see an injury in-front of us and know the history of what has happened ……. but until you can get in to see the Osteopath ….. here are the basics
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……… in-fact it’s like one step forward and one step backward at the same time. Often the patient says “….but the heat feels nice while it’s on there” and this may be true as it is comforting and is easing muscles (and lets face it cold pack is often not “comforting”), but once you take the hot pack off the area it’s sore again ….and all that extra blood that was bought to the area probably just made it harder for your injury to reduce the inflammation and get better quickly.
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 really good for chronic problems where extra blood supply to the area can sometimes be helpful.
SO ……. because every injury is different…..there are no black and white rules ……. the only way to be sure is for you to come in and see us so that we can have a look at the problem and understand exactly what is going on and then they we will able to advise you and what will be best for your specific problem …..all those years at university means we will probably have better advice for you than your well meaning mates 🙂
but here are some general rules just incase….

  • Acute onset of pain usually involves significant inflammation and requires ice.
  • If there is any visible swelling or bruising requires ice.
  • Trauma requires ice (and probably x-rays too)
  • 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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