When it comes to deciding between ice and heat for dealing with an injury or ailment, most people have preconceived notions. Whether it’s a frozen bag of peas for a sprained ankle or a hot compress for a sore lower back, everyone has their own personal methods. The truth is, however, that the decision of ice or heat for healing is actually determined by the type of ailment and the stage of the recovery.
Ice is typically used to dull the immediate pain of an injury and quell any associated throbbing sensations or bruising. In the intermediate term, icing also helps to decrease inflammation and swelling by constricting the the blood vessels, which can reap long-term benefits by limiting damage early.
Ice should not be used, however, on muscle stiffness or spams as the low temperature can actually exacerbate those conditions.
Heat treatments and warm compresses are ideal for muscle tightness and joint stiffness as the temperature helps to relax and sooth the ailing tissues. Heat is also preferred when treating back and neck pain or spasms as the warmth helps to increase blood flow to affected areas and expedite recovery.
Heat should definitely be avoided for fresh injuries though as it can significantly increase inflammation and swelling, which will also cause a drastic increase in pain.
When deciding between ice or heat for your condition, it is important to consider the type of injury or ailment and the state of your recuperation. Also, and most importantly, it is always preferable to go with what feels best to you and to follow the recommendations of a primary care physician.