One of the most common questions we’ve been asked is when to use an ice pack or a heat pack for an injury.

Many people aren’t sure, so often they use the opposite therapy or don’t do anything when they hurt themselves. If we don’t do anything or use the incorrect therapy during the initial stages, it can hinder the recovery process.

Read on to find out how you can speed up your recovery by learning when to ice or heat an injury.

Ice Pack Treatments / Cold Therapy

Cold Therapy is usually effective for either a new injury or a sudden flare up of old injuries.

This is because majority of the initial pain is from the inflammation and swelling caused by the damaged anatomy. If you were to manage at least the swelling aspect of the injury, it would decrease the pain.

In addition to the decrease in swelling and pain, it can allow the manual practitioner (Chiropractor, Physiotherapist, Massage Therapist) to work on the damaged anatomy sooner to help your body repair the injured area faster.

Cold Therapy works by constricting the blood vessels around the injured area to slow the chemical reactions that would cause the swelling or inflammation. As a result, it decreases nerve sensitivity reducing pain and discomfort.

Common Types of Injuries You Should Apply Ice To:

» Ankle sprains

» Knee sprains

» Muscle or joint sprains

» Red, hot or swollen body areas

» Acute pain after intense exercise

To use the ice pack effectively:

» Attend to the injury within the first 24-72 hours

» Place a small towel in between the ice pack and your skin to prevent frostbite

» Use an ice pack, bag of crushed ice, or bag of frozen vegetables for 10 minutes every hour, all day if possible*

*This time frame may change if clinically indicated

Extra Tip:
A warm moist towel next to the skin and place the cold pack above it can result in a more pleasant and gradual cooling of the area to be treated.

Contraindications for Cold Therapy:

» People with cardiac issues e.g. angina pectoris, cardiac dysfunctions or arterial insufficiency

» Opens wounds over 48-72 hrs after injury

» Increased sensitivity to the cold (Raynaud’s disease, uticaria, multiple sclerosis)

» People with areas where there is a loss of sensation

Heat Pack Treatments / Heat Therapy

Heat Therapy is usually effective for chronic or ongoing aches and pains.

This is because the pain is most likely due to the tired muscles overworking either from an old injury that has not fully healed, or from an overused joint resulting in wear and tear to the area.

Heat therapy can help tired muscles by dilating the blood vessels to promote tissue healing by increasing blood flow into the muscle(s), providing it with more oxygen and nutrients. It can also increase the tissue elasticity to reduce muscle spasm which decreases that stiff achy pain.

Common Types of Injuries You Should Apply Heat To:

» Muscle pain or soreness

» Stiff joints

» Arthritic aches (Not during flare ups)

» Old or recurring injuries (Not during flare ups)

To use the heat pack effectively:

» Place a small towel in between the heat and your skin to prevent burns

» Make sure it is a warm temperature to avoid burns

» Use a warm heat pack or wheat bag for 20 mins every hour*

» Do not apply heat for an extended period of time

*This time frame may change if clinically indicated

Contraindications for Heat Therapy:

» Acute inflammatory conditions

» Fever

» Cancer and infections

» People with cardiac issues – the heart may not be able to tolerate additional stress

» Adults over 60 years old, children under 4 years old; this is because of an unreliable thermoregulation that may lead to fever

» People with a peripheral vascular disease

By learning and applying the correct therapy during an injury, you are helping yourself to heal faster and also your health care team to focus on diagnosing and treating the anatomy that lead to the injury in the first place.
If you would like more help to reduce your pain or to learn how to prevent the injury, please call Aurum Health Care on 9899 1416.