using heat and ice to treat injuriesUsing Heat and Ice to Treat Injuries

At Physio Leeds, we are regularly asked whether heat or ice should be used to treat a particular injury.

The answer depends on what kind of injury it is.

Heat and ice have very different effects on the body and treat injuries in different ways. It is important to use the correct method of treatment to avoid aggravating the injury and making it worse.

Here is a quick guide to help you decide whether you should be using hot or cold treatments, or a combination of the two:

Ice treatment

When to use ice on an injury:

Ice can be applied to an injury or trauma that has caused swelling and inflammation. It should be applied as soon as possible after the injury for around 20-30 minutes. Ice can also be applied to an arthritic joint during a flare up.

When not to use ice on an injury:

Don’t use ice to treat achy or sore muscles as ice can make tension in the muscles worse.

How does ice help an injury?

Applying ice to an injury causes the blood vessels around the injured site to constrict which reduces blood flow to the injured area. By reducing the circulation of blood to the area, this can reduce swelling. Ice can also numb nerve endings which can reduce the pain caused by the trauma.

Types of ice treatment:

If you injure yourself at a sports centre or gym, their first aid team are likely to give you an ice pack to apply to the injury. However, if you injure yourself at home, a bag of frozen peas or vegetables can make a great makeshift ice pack. If you are using a bag of frozen peas straight from the freezer, ensure you wrap the bag in a towel or sheet before placing it on the injured site to avoid ice burns to the body.

Heat treatment

When to use heat on an injury:

Heat can be used to relieve muscle soreness, cramps, aches and joint stiffness. It is often used to treat long-term musculoskeletal conditions.

When not to use heat on an injury:

It is important that heat is not used on new injuries as it can increase swelling and lead to scar tissue at the site of the injury. Don’t use heat to treat wounds or bruising.

How does heat help an injury?

Applying heat to an injured area causes the blood vessels to dilate which encourages blood to flow to the area. This increase in circulation can relax muscles and help to soothe aches and pains in the muscles.  Heat can reduce stiffness in the joints, thus increasing flexibility.

Types of heat treatment:

Heat pads and wheat bags that can be heated easily in a microwave are a great home remedy for muscle pain and tension. Hot water bottles can also be used to help relax muscles and soothe cramps. It is important when using heat treatments that the device used is not too hot that it will cause burns to the skin. When using a hot water bottle as a heat treatment, either wrap it in a towel or sheet before applying it to the sore area or wait for it to cool down to a warm, bearable temperature before use.  Warm baths and showers are also a popular way to relax muscles and ease stiffness.

A combination of hot and cold treatments

Hot and cold treatments can often be combined to relieve the symptoms of conditions, such as arthritis, which cause joints to become inflamed. Having warm showers before exercise can help to increase circulation and encourage the muscles to relax and applying ice to the joints after exercise can relieve pain. Heat and ice can be applied alternately to act as a pump to help to remove swelling, particularly with ankle injuries.

Still unclear regarding using heat and ice to treat injuries, or want personalised advice on which is the best method to use to treat your injury? Get in touch with PhysioLeeds Fit4Work today.