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Heat or cold? How to best recover from injuries!

What is best to use when you have hurt yourself?

They are both great modalities to use if parts of you start hurting.


The first thing to understand is that each injury/pain is different and, therefore, may need a different methodology. Knowing the way each of these methodologies works, allows you to make the choice that is most likely to settle your discomfort.


The below should allow you to confidently assess the situation and get it right nearly every time.

If you need further advice, then don’t hesitate to contact us.

Key takeaways: Ice and heat therapy can both be effective treatment options for muscle aches and pains. Generally, ice is better for acute or newer injuries, while heat is better for chronic or long-term pain.

Spoiler alert: If in doubt, reach for the ICE…

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- What do they do?


HEAT:

  • Brings more blood to the area where it is applied

  • Reduces joint stiffness

  • Relaxes muscles

  • Heat should NOT be used for the first 48 hours after an injury


COLD:

  • Reduces blood flow and, therefore, the bleeding that causes bruising

  • Reduces swelling and inflammation

  • Eases pain by numbing the affected area

- What should I do?


The short answer:

  • Start with ice when the injured area hurts.

    • Cold therapy is recommended for immediately after you hurt yourself, and up to the first two days afterwards.

  • After that, heat will likely give you more pain relief.

    • Heat will help with stiffness and loosen up your muscles and joints.

    • Applying heat to a body part also stimulates blood circulation.

    • This brings oxygen-rich blood and nutrients to the affected area, promoting healing.


- What if I prefer the other one?


We used to be much more insistent on there being a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to soothe aches and pains caused by injuries or conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, and neck pain. In fact, either heat or cold can relieve these symptoms, and often, you simply prefer one over the other.


- How do I do it?


Apply a hot or cold compress using any of these items:

  • An electric heating pad

  • A gel pack that can be microwaved or frozen

  • A bag of ice or frozen vegetables

  • A washcloth or small towel soaked in hot or cold water (wring it out, fold it, and apply it to the sore area)

Apply the above to the painful area for 15-20 minutes several times during the day.


- Can I do it wrong?


Whether you use heat or cold, wrap the pack in a thin towel to protect your skin. Your skin may look a little pinker after each session. That’s normal, but let your skin return to its normal colour and temperature before applying another dose of ice or heat.


Call your doctor if you notice any of the following signs. They could mean the temperature was too extreme and may have caused skin damage:

  • Skin that’s purplish-red, dark red, or a spotty red-and-white.

  • Hives

  • Swelling

  • Blisters


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Recommended First Aid for Bone and Muscular injuries:

This is meant as a guide to assist you when trying to make the best decisions.


  1. Impact or sprained or broken bits which happened in the last 48 hours:

    • ICE as there will be inflammation and possible bleeding, and Ice is great for numbing pain.

    • Then get assessed by a specialist as quickly as possible.

  2. Pain you have experienced before, such as back pain, neck pain, or headache.

    • You might already know what worked last time.

    • Generally, move 'little and often’ and maybe use painkillers.

    • Use ICE for the first 48 hours, after that HEAT works best.

    • If it persists, get assessed by a specialist.

  3. Pain you haven't had before and for seemingly no reason:

    • Take your own case history …could you have done something yesterday to cause this?

    • If the pain is severe or if there is redness and/or swelling… Could it be an infection?

    • In such a case, you should see a doctor.

    • Use ICE.

    • Get checked.

    • For low-grade pain that doesn’t change with anything you do:

    • Monitor and get in contact with someone who can ask medical questions.

Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication should be avoided with acute injuries.

They have been shown to slow healing.

In other situations, it is still wise to be mindful of the side-effects such medication can cause. Usually, these are minimised by ensuring you take them with food.

Make sure you are not using them to disguise warning signs that may need further attention.

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