The Age-Old Question: Hot or Cold?

Ouch! Whether it’s a trigger point in your neck or a sprained ankle, it hurts. So we ask ourselves, and our doctors, which should we reach for? The ice pack? Or the heating pad? Unfortunately, there are few hard-and-fast rules about this. It depends how you feel, what’s wrong, and how long ago the injury happened.

Reach for the Ice

Ice is best for recent injuries: ideally, within 24 to 48 hours of getting hurt, especially if swelling is present. Ice can help soothe the pain response, but by slightly constricting local blood vessels, it can also reduce excessive swelling. Elevating the injured limb while you apply a cold pack can help even more. Ice can also be helpful for chronic injuries, like an overused muscle or joint, but only after the aggravating activity—never before.

Reach for the Heat

When your muscles are aggravated—think spasms or trigger points—but not necessarily injured by a specific event, heat is your friend. If you’re suffering from a strain or sprain, heat may make your swelling worse. For chronic pain, heat can be helpful before activity begins.  For general sore spots or a tight back, neck or shoulders caused by stress, moist heat can be a great way to relax and reduce that pain.

Keep in Mind for Heat or Cold

Never force yourself to ice or heat a body part if it makes you feel more uncomfortable. If you’re hot and sweaty, a heating pad is unlikely to make you feel better. If you’re shivering, an ice pack probably isn’t going to help. Also be sure to remember that whether it’s heat or cold, it should never be placed directly on your skin. You don’t want burns or frostbite, and you increase this risk by falling asleep with the ice or heat still on your body.  Limiting ice or heat therapy to twenty minutes at a time, as needed, is a good rule of thumb.

Still have questions? It’s no fun to be in pain. Schedule an appointment with us today by calling (770) 421-1420 or clicking on our web contact form.

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