One of the most frequent questions I get asked at New Life Chiropractic is whether heat or ice is most effective for the treatment of acute pain. As a general rule ice is the best bet. Ice reduces swelling, reduces inflammation and produces an analgesic (pain reducing) effect caused by the numbing from the cold.
How to Use Ice for Pain:
Ice is easy to use at home, because almost everyone already has it in their freezer. All you have to do is fill a freezer bag with ice, or even grab a pack of frozen peas (a therapist favorite: just be sure to mark the bag “do not eat!”), and apply it to the painful area. Some people prefer to use store-bought ice packs, which can be stored in the freezer and used over and over. Never use these directly on your skin they are cold enough to burn. You can even freeze a towel or washcloth by dipping it in water and placing it in the freezer. Sometimes in therapy clinics, we use ice for “massage”: fill a small paper cup with water and freeze it, then tear off the bottom and rub the icy side directly over the painful area. Keep a towel handy, this can be messy. Ice should be used for twenty minutes per hour.
There are exceptions to the ice rule when heat can be more effective. How heat works.
Overworked muscles are sore because of a chemical called lactate that builds up when the muscles are put under stress or overworked in an oxygen-depleted environment. When there is decreased blood flow to a damaged area, chemicals don’t get flushed out of the muscle. This chemical build-up creates painful muscle ache, best treted by heat therapy which restores blood flow and flushes the toxins out.
When to Use Heat
Heat is best in treating chronic (persistent, ongoing) pain. Heat increases blood supply, stimulating the elimination of chemicals and relaxing soreness and stiffness to bring relief. If you suffer from an ongoing injury, apply heat before exercising. Because heat raises your temperature, applying heat after exercise can aggravate the existing pain.
Types of Heat
Local, applying heat to a specific area: hot water bottle, heating pad, moist heat (hot, damp towel) and heat wraps. Systemic, raising your body temperature: hot bath, saunas, steam bath or a hot shower. Call New Life Today!!