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Posted on 12-25-2016

Many people have heard about heat and ice therapies but are confused as to when to apply them, under what circumstances and they don't know which one is best, heat or ice?  Both heat and ice therapies can be very helpful in decreasing one's pain and providing the proper support so the body can start its own natural healing process.  The key is to apply them at the proper time.

In general, apply ice within 24 to 48 hours of new (acute) injuries such as a sprain or muscle spasm.  When a new injury occurs, it often causes inflammation and swelling of the injured area, which irritates adjacent tissues and nerves.  Ice helps to constrict nearby blood vessels, thereby reducing blood flow to the region, which in turn reduces the inflammation and swelling.  It is never wise to simply apply an ice-cube directly to bare skin.  Always use a protective barrier between the injured area and the ice itself.  In a pinch, you can put ice-cubes into a plastic bag, seal it and use it for an ice pack.  If it is still too chilly, drape a piece of cloth between the bag and the injured area.

By contrast, heat therapy opens up blood vessels which increases blood flow to the area.  The additional blood provides more nutrients and oxygen which help the body begin the healing process.  Heat also relaxes ligaments, tendons and sore, stiff muscles.  Generally, moist heat penetrates better than dry heat.  Hot baths and hot water bottles are a great source of moist heat and electric or microwaveable heating pads provide dry heat.  Again, place some type of protective barrier between the bare skin and source of heat.  If your skin becomes too hot, wait until the pad cools down a bit before trying again in order to avoid burning the skin. 

Both hot and cold therapies should only be applied for 20 minutes at a time unless recommended by your chiropractor.  Those with poor circulation or diabetes should not use heat therapies and heat should not be applied to open wounds or areas with stitches.  Listen to your body as well.  If you take a hot bath and your pain increases, you might want to try an ice pack instead and vice versa.    

For more information on when and how to properly apply heat and ice therapies to help reduce your pain, please contact us.

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