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Should You Use Ice Or Heat For An Injury?

Posted Dec 20 2010 8:07pm
One of the most common questions about treating pain and inflammation is whether to use ice or heat. Most of the time, the answer is ice.

Heat can relieve pain temporarily but it’s like scratching an itch. It feels good while you’re doing it but it may actually be making things worse. On the other hand, ice can be a bit uncomfortable while you’re using it but it will feel better later.

If you feel pain, it’s likely due to inflammation. Along with pain, there are 3 other cardinal signs of inflammation: Swelling, redness, and heat. So, since an inflamed area is already hot, don’t add more heat, use ice.

Ice doesn’t actually add cold to the body but, instead, takes heat away. In the process, it also takes away pain and swelling. Redness may linger but will gradually dissipate.

So as a rule of thumb, if it hurts, put ice on it for 20-30 minutes.  Always put a thin towel or t-shirt in between the ice and your skin and wait at least 1 hour in between applications to protect your skin.

There are rare situations where heat or contrast therapy can be effective, but these should only be used under the supervision of a doctor or physical therapist.
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