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When to Use Ice Versus Heat for Injuries


October 10, 2018

When you are hurting from a muscle strain or an injury, you might be wondering if you should treat your pain with ice or heat. Treating chronic pain with either can be highly effective, but it’s crucial to know which situations call for which treatment—and which call for both. Take the advice of a physical therapist to ensure you are using them effectively.
Let’s take a look at when you should be using ice versus heat.

Use Heat for Muscle Pain or Stiffness

There are two different types of heat you can use for muscle pain or stiffness: dry heat and moist heat. If you have ever used a heating pad, then you know how easy it is to apply dry heat. Moist heat can come from a source such as a steaming towel or a hot bath.
There is also heat from an ultrasound, which can be highly effective. Sitting in a sauna is another option.
Heat therapy can soothe muscles and damaged tissue because it increases blood flow and temperature in the area, which promotes healing. Be sure you are using warm heat rather than hot.

Be sure you do not use heat therapy for the following:
  • There is a bruise or burn in the affected area.
  • There is a pre-existing condition such as diabetes, dermatitis, multiple sclerosis, or vascular disease that can be negatively affected by the heat.
  • If you are pregnant, use of a hot tub or sauna for heat therapy is not recommended.
Applying heat therapy to the affected area for 15 to 30 minutes is often enough to relieve pain and stiffness.

Use Ice for Injuries, Pain, Inflammation, and Swelling

Cold therapy does the opposite of heat therapy in that it draws blood flow away from the affected area. This can help reduce swelling and inflammation. It also numbs the area, temporarily relieving pain.
You can purchase ice packs at the drugstore, which you keep in the freezer to use when needed. They come in all different kinds of shapes and sizes.
There are also coolant sprays available. Ice baths are another option that athletes often use to reduce potential swelling after a particularly tough workout.
Don’t use cold therapy if you have sensory disorders or poor circulation.
Never apply a cold pack directly to the skin; wrap it first in a towel or cloth or it can damage the skin and tissues.
Cold therapy is most effective when it is used several times throughout the day for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, applied to the affected area.
If you need more information about treating pain or injuries with ice or heat, give us a call today. North Platte is your go-to local physical therapist in Douglas, WY to provide the services that will get you feeling better and stronger. Our expert staff is respected throughout the Wyoming and Nebraska areas for providing superior and customized physical therapy services. We can handle any of your physical therapy needs. Fill out our contact form to get started and to find a location near you.