As a physical therapist I treat injuries from head-to-toe. No matter what type of injury, the most common question I get asked is “Do I use heat/ice?”
Please allow me to answer this question relating to common joint and muscle pain.
Heat and ice work if used to treat muscular pain. You can use both! Some nerves in your body can tell your brain when you feel pain. This same nerve also relays temperature information. If you change the temperature with heat or ice, this information is more important to your brain and the message about pain decreases. You are basically tricking your body. The temperature change is actually reducing the body’s ability to recognize the pain. Use whatever works best for you.
Ice is your friend if you have just suffered an injury within 72 hours. Ice will reduce swelling and blood flow to the area. Remember, ice is for acute injuries only.
For arthritic joint pain and muscle aches, heat is the best option. The heat will increase blood flow and speed up healing. This is best for muscles and joints that are stiff.
These modalities should be used with caution. Avoid placing either of these modalities directly on open wounds, infections, or if you have conditions that impair your sense ability. You should not use it if you have certain neurological, vascular or cardiac conditions. To ensure that there are no skin irritations or burns, your skin should be checked at least once every five minutes. Use heat and ice for 15-20 minutes, with 20-minute breaks between each application.
Ask your physician or physical therapist if you have questions about heat and ice.