Most of us keep an ice pack handy in the freezer should an unexpected injury sneak up on us. It’s an old home remedy that, as it turns out, can do a world of good when it comes to reducing swelling and discomfort. In some cases, heat is your best bet. Other times, alternating between the two is the most effective way to go.
So how do you determine which is best? And when should you head to a doctor? We’re here to settle the debate.
When Icing an Injury is best
Applying cold packs or ice is often an effective go-to home therapy for injuries that cause pain, swelling and/or inflammation. Think: bumps and bangs that pop up after falling or sustaining a minor impact like stubbing your shin or twisting your ankle. According to Healthline, applying cool temperatures to the injury reduces blood flow, which then brings down swelling. Since swelling typically causes pain, it has an added bonus of easing discomfort.
Cold therapy can be delivered in a number of ways. Sticking a wet towel in the freezer for 15 minutes can get the job done, as can reusable cold packs that are available at most stores. If you’re in a pinch, a bag of frozen vegetables can also do the trick. No matter what you use, Prevention suggests using cold therapy for 15 to 20 minutes every one to two hours. It’s also best to do it within 24 to 48 hours of an injury.
When Heat’s a Better Option
While cold therapy restricts blood flow, heat therapy opens it up. As Reader’s Digest reports, research shows that increasing this flow supports healing by delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the injury site. Heat therapy also ups the temperature of deep tissue, which helps with muscle flexibility. Another worthwhile tidbit is that it appears to ease pain.
Heat therapy is generally considered best for chronic muscle pain or persistent discomfort that comes with ailments like arthritis. You can get things rolling at home with a warm bath or heating pad. Medical News Today suggests applying heat to the area for 20 minutes at a time for up to three times a day.
When to Alternate Between Ice and Heat
Right after an injury, cold is generally considered your best bet since it works almost instantly to reduce swelling and pain. Getting ahead of inflammation is the name of the game when you’re trying to keep pain under control. Once the initial swelling begins to go down, you can alternate heat therapy to increase blood flow to the area and, hopefully, help the body heal.
Every injury is different, so there’s really no one-size-fits-all answer. If pain persists or you aren’t sure how to move forward, meeting with a doctor is always best. Pain Stop North Phoenix has a team of experienced pain management specialists on hand to help you assess your injury and get you on the path to healing as soon as possible.