Heat vs Ice


Blog by Pierre Joubert

The general rule is you use ICE for injuries and HEAT for muscular pain/tightness.

Why is that? Let’s firstly look at Ice:

The physical effect of applying ice on the body is the narrowing (Vasoconstriction) of the blood vessels. This helps reduce the blood circulating which is helpful for an acute injury as it reduces swelling, internal bleeding, tissue metabolism and reduces pain.

There is evidence that once the skin temperature falls below 15 ͦ C then there is an analgesic (or pain relieving) effect. This is because the nerves conduct their messages more slowly at lower temperatures.

When Not to use Ice:

Do not use over areas of numbness or poor circulation. Elderly people, young children, and people with diabetes must use caution with cold. Recent research indicates impaired muscle strength and power immediately after icing, so it should not be used immediately before exercise or sports.

Make sure to apply ice safely. Ice should be held over the affected area for over 10-20 minutes and reapplied every two hours for the first six hours. Furthermore, there is evidence that shows a combination of ice and exercise is more effective than exercise alone at healing injuries.

Heat on the other hand,

The physical benefit of applying heat on the body is the widening (Vasodilation) of the blood vessels. This helps by reducing muscular tension, reducing pain, reducing joint stiffness and improving soft tissue elasticity.

When Not to use Heat:

In the acute stage after an injury (within the first 5 days), there is evidence to suggest that applying heat can actually make the injury worse due to the increased bleeding and swelling. Therefore, the use of heat is more effective on injuries that are more longstanding.

For example, heat can decrease joint stiffness and pain in people with osteoarthritis and can be used as a relaxant on sore muscles and trigger points. Interestingly, there are studies that have shown heat therapy provides short-term reductions in pain and disability in people with acute low back pain and provides significantly greater pain relief of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) than cold therapy.

Overall, the research results are inconsistent on this topic. However, there are still great benefits in using either Ice and Heat as outlined above. They are inexpensive treatments that you can easily perform at home. If you are still unsure on which to use or how to use them safely please consult a health professional.

For more information please contact our team at Physio on Ross on 4728 2116.



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