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Treating Pain With Ice vs. Heat, What’s The Difference?

January 4, 2017

Ouch! Do you feel a minor ache or pain somewhere in your body? Whether you twisted your ankle the wrong way or lifted a little bit too much at the gym, aches and pains can put a major damper on your day, so it’s important to learn the best way to treat them. Two of the best pain relievers, ice and heat, are often used to fight off pain and get back on your feet, but is one better than the other? A physical therapist in Cheyenne WY from North Platte Physical Therapy explains treating injuries with ice vs. heat:

When to Use Ice

If your injury is brand new, it’s best to treat it with ice right away. Ice will immediately reduce inflammation and swelling in tissue near the surface. Apply ice to the injured area for a few minutes and you can also get a little relief from pain. How? Ice constricts your blood vessels underneath the surface, which not only helps with inflammation, but also numbs the pain so you don’t have to suffer any longer.

You should also use ice if you’re worried a new injury will leave a nasty bruise on your skin, since it can help prevent discoloration as well. A good rule to follow is to always use ice immediately after an injury to limit the swelling and bruising that may develop. Learn more about using ice and cold packs.

When to Use Heat

Did you have a long, stressful day at the office? You may start to feel tense in your neck, shoulders, or back, especially if you’ve been sitting at a desk all day. In this situation, which should you grab: an ice pack or heating pad? Definitely the heat. Applying heat to these areas can help loosen the muscles and relieve some of the tension you feel. In fact, heat is not only the best choice, it’s the only choice when it comes to tense muscles. Whereas ice constricts the blood vessels, heat increases the blood flow to the affected area, which can help relax tight muscles. Ice cannot be used to treat muscle tension—it actually makes the discomfort worse—so stick to your heating pad.

You should also use heat if you start to feel deep muscle cramping or soreness from a workout. Heat can help alleviate the aches and pains associated with stiff joints as well, so a heating pad is a great way for people with arthritis to manage their symptoms on a daily basis.

In general, heat is much more effective when the issue stems from a deep tissue or muscle, whereas ice is more effective when the issue is on the surface or in the tissues right underneath the skin.

Contact North Platte Physical Therapy to learn more about treating aches and pains with ice or heat. Our staff is praised throughout the Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska areas for our commitment to our clients. We can fulfill comprehensive physical therapy services, and would be happy to customize a treatment plan for your personal needs.