Patients often ask whether heat or ice treatment is appropriate for an injury. When used correctly, appropriate heat or ice treatment can help to reduce bleeding, inflammation, swelling, muscle spasm and pain following injury.
- Use during the first 72 hours following an acute injury
- Apply ice for 10 minutes every 2 hours
- Ice decreases blood flow to the affected region reducing inflammation and swelling
- Apply using crushed ice or an ice pack wrapped in a damp tea towel
- Be careful not to burn your skin!
- Also ideal to elevate the injured area above the level of your heart
- During this period, avoid heat treatment, alcohol and massage all of which increase blood flow and subsequent inflammation.
In addition to Ice treatment, further measures to reduce blood flow to the affected region are indicated in the first 72 hours following injury and should comprise: Rest from aggravating activities, Elevation of the injured part above the level of your heart and the use of a Compression bandage (R.I.C.E.).
- Beneficial after the inflammatory phase of an injury,
- Apply a heat pack for 10 – 30 minutes and repeat 2 – 5 times daily or as required.
- Heat increases blood flow to the affected region transporting more nutrients and oxygen to damaged tissue, speeding healing
- Heat can also help to reduce pain, muscle spasm and tightness, and joint stiffness.
As a general rule, heat treatment should only be used after the initial 72 hour period following injury. If used during the inflammatory phase (first three days), heat treatment may increase inflammation and swelling, and can subsequently prolong injury recovery.