This is a very common question that I get asked in my practice. Often times I find that patients use heat on their injury when they should have used ice or they use ice when they should have used heat.
Ice is normally used when there is a recent injury. Usually the joint or the muscle will feel warm because of swelling within the tissue. A good analogy for swelling is fire and when there is fire you want to put water on it to cool it down.
Use moist ice if there is sharp/stabbing like pain with light touch or sneezing. Studies have proven that it is best to wrap the ice pack in a damp cloth and place it on the body part for no more than 15 minutes. You can also use a damp hand towel soaked in cold water if the ice is too strong.
Heat is normally used on muscles that are tight due to repetitive movement or overuse. A good analogy for tight muscles is shriveled up tissue. Ice would shrivel the tissue further while heat would loosens it up.
If the pain is more dull in nature and gets worse with movement, then moist heat is usually recommended. Use a moist warm hand towel and place it over the body part for no more than 15 minutes to avoid any underlying swelling to come up to the surface.
Most importantly, realize that the above information is just that, general information, and if you are injured please consult your health care practitioner for proper treatment.
That’s it for today. Have fun and please try not to get injured!
Your trusted advisor, Zeya Alikhan B.Sc., D.C.