Icing and heating injuries are techniques that have been used to aid recovery for hundreds of years. Despite this, there remains a lot of confusion as to which should be used when. Unfortunately, this is not an either-or scenario, and applying the wrong temperature to your injury could actually make things worse. In this blog, we’re going to look at how icing and heating work, and how to know which one to use.
Icing should be used only when an area has become swollen. There are a number of ways this can happen. Usually it would be a muscle that has become swollen after being overstretched, but swelling can also occur in other situations, such as after surgery or giving birth. In cases like these, using an ice pack could help.
The benefits of icing to recovery time have been debated for some time. While many believe it helps recovery by encouraging the swelling to go down, others claim that reducing the size too quickly will leave less room for blood and lymph to move around the body, slowing down the process. Either way, icing has been shown to be an effective method of relieving pain in the short-term, making the recovery process more endurable.
Icing should only be used on acute injuries that result in swelling, as the primary purpose is to reduce the heat emanating from the injured area. Using ice on chronic pain will most likely worsen the pain, although not in all cases.
The most important thing to remember about icing is that you should almost never ice your neck or back. There are many muscle knots and other trigger points in these areas that are highly likely to cause your body to overreact to the cold, resulting in more pain.
Heating is generally used for sore stiff muscles, chronic pain, and stress. While icing usually occurs after an activity, heating is done beforehand. The direct heat soothes the muscle, helping to relieve pain and reduce spams. Additionally, the heat causes the red blood vessels to dilate, which stimulates the healing process.
Heat can also be used to help with chronic conditions such as arthritis. The heat from a heat pack can penetrate several centimetres below the skin, and so can easily reach the bone in many parts of the body. Not only does the heat sooth the bones, it encourages more blood and lymph to flow to that part of the body, which delivers nutrients and reduces pain.
When it comes to icing and heating, the general rule of thumb is that ice is for injuries and heat is for muscle, but as we have seen here, that is not always the case. Ice is almost always used for a swell after a sudden injury. Heat is usually used to loosen stiffness before the activity, so an easy way to remember which is most suitable is to simply think of “Warm up” and “Cool down”.
The final thing to remember is that you should never apply ice directly to the skin, and you should always be wary of how hot the heating pad is. If you are using a homemade heating or cooling device, be sure to wrap it in a towel before placing on the skin. If either methods feel painful, you should stop immediately.