By this time you are probably gearing back up after the New Year. Your check list is a mile long and somewhere between getting back to work and getting dinner on the table you manage to roll your ankle. It is a bit sore and you notice some swelling start to set in later as your lounging on the couch. Your sister recommends ice it but your cousin says she puts heat on her aching shoulder. Which one should you do?
Ice verses heat is a long standing debate but the truth is that both can help depending on your injury. The rule of thumb is that ice is for new injuries such as strains and sprains while heat is for chronic injuries, pain, and relaxation.
Ice should be used in the case of new injuries such as the one described above because it eases inflammation and swelling. Icing is also a good, drugless way to dull pain because it effectively constricts blood vessels which can also aid in the lessening of bruising. This is also the reason ice should not be used on chronically tight muscles - narrowing the vessels can cause these muscles to stiffen even more.
Instead heat can be used to sooth sore muscles, tension and spasms because it increases blood flow and flushes new, healing fluids to the affected area. Often time’s heat helps sooth stiff muscle and joints and increase range of motion in some cases. Heat should not be used for acute injuries such as a sprain because bringing more fluid into the area will increase swelling and delay the healing process.
Typically a regimen with ice and heat is 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off. If you don’t have an ice pack you can use a bag of frozen peas or corn or mix 1 cup of rubbing alcohol with 2 cups of water and freezing to make your own DIY ice pack. If you don’t have a heating pad, you can stuff an old, clean sock with rice and microwave at 30 second intervals until the desired temperature is reached. As a precaution always make sure there is a layer like a towel or scarf in-between your skin and any ice or heat you apply.
So was your sister or cousin right? Both! For your everyday life induced aches and pains remember to ice that sprained ankle and while you’re at it, throw some moist heat on your tense neck and shoulders – you will be good to go in no time! If you have any questions about whether to use ice or heat, contact your doctor or therapist to stay Active for Life!