Whether you are young or old, active or sedentary, eventually we all sustain an injury. The question is, what therapy would be best suited for treating that ailment, ice or heat? This is an important question that can sometimes be difficult to answer. In this article, I will attempt to provide you with some important information that will allow you to make an educated decision whether to apply ice or heat to an injury in order to get back to living comfortably as quickly as possible.

Paying the PRICE:
To effectively treat a recent injury you need to apply the acronym P.R.I.C.E.; the ‘P’ stands for protect, the ‘R’ for rest, the ‘I’ for ice, the ‘C’ for compression, and the ‘E’ for elevation. This article will focus specifically on the benefits of applying ice to an injury.

If in doubt, always try ice first! Cold therapy initiates several processes at the tissue level. The most important process is the constriction of the blood vessels in the target area, which decreases blood flow and reduces swelling. Cryotherapy also reduces the metabolic rate and nerve conduction, which helps to reduce pain and prevent subsequent tissue damage in the area.

The most common ways to perform cryotherapy are through the use of crushed ice or gel packs. If you decide to use crushed ice, it should be applied directly to the skin within minutes of the injury and be applied for ten to twenty minutes at a time (typically no longer than thirty minutes). The application of frozen gel packs is similar; however these packs should be separated from the skin by one or two layers of toweling as they maintain significantly lower temperatures than does crushed ice, and can result in frostbite. These therapies can be repeated typically after one hour or when the skin has returned to its normal temperature.

When is it appropriate to switch from icing to heating an injured area? It is generally accepted that thermotherapy, or the use of heat, is most effective two to three days after the initial injury. By increasing blood flow and the metabolic demands of the target tissue, heat serves to accelerate healing, relieve sore muscles, and improve the flexibility of the injured tissues.

There are several methods of heat application ranging from a microwaveable beanbag to the hot tub. Regardless of the heat source,the following guidelines should be followed:

Apply a barrier of two to four layers of toweling between the skin and the heat source to avoid burning the skin.

Treatment time should be fifteen to thirty minutes. Check the area after five minutes to ensure no blistering or spotting has occurred.

The heat source should be pleasantly warm but not hot enough to be uncomfortable.

As with cold therapy, allow approximately 1 hour between applications.

Another option during the injury rehabilitation phase is a contrast bath or applying heat and cold in succession. Using this method, heat is used to warm up the tissue providing flexibility to perform the assigned rehab exercises, and then ice is applied afterwards to ward off resulting inflammation.

The use of ice and heat should be applied with the necessary precautions. The most common misuse of cold therapy occurs in elderly people, who should keep their entire body adequately warm during application. Thermotherapy also requires caution; it should not be used over cuts, burns, infections, recent surgeries or areas where you cannot sense heat. If ever in doubt, you should always seek the advice of an appropriate health care practitioner before beginning any unattended therapies.

If you have any questions about this blog article or if you are wondering if chiropractic can help your current ailment, please contact your Comox Chiropractor Dr. Houlgrave. He will be happy to assist you with any of your questions.