Doctor explains when we should put ice on an injury and when we should put heat

Suddenly, pain. Then your thoughts are filled with possibilities: Broken? Sprained? Frayed tissue?

You ponder whether to visit a physician or treat the damage on your own. Even if it is necessary to visit an urgent care facility, you may need to offer first aid. However, you cannot recall which treatment to apply to your injury:

Or perhaps heat?

Here are some answers and suggestions to help you make wise judgments the next time you or a family member are injured.

Fresh injury? See a doctor

The most essential decision is whether or not to see a doctor.

Jake Mefford, clinical director of OSF OnCall Urgent Care, stated, “When you sustain a new injury, one that you have not sustained previously, you should see a health care practitioner.”

“If you are experiencing severe discomfort, you should get medical attention. Your provider offers instruments to determine, for instance, the likelihood of a break versus a strain.

In contrast, if the injury is a reinjury, such as a sprain of the same joint, it can often be treated at home.

The functions of cold and heat

Ice and heat both have therapeutic applications. Which should be used?

Rule of thumb for the majority of injuries: Ice first, heat second. Jake advised avoiding their concurrent use unless otherwise recommended by a healthcare professional.

The majority of injuries result in inflammation and edema. Ice is used to relieve swelling and chill the injured joint or tissue.

In contrast, heat would result in an opposite and undesirable effect. Heat therapy is more appropriate for recovery and rehabilitation back to full health.

When to employ ice

As quickly as possible, acute injuries should be treated with ice. Even if you intend to see a doctor for a diagnosis, you should apply ice to assist minimize the swelling. Bringing the wounded tissue to a cooler temperature will also aid in preventing additional harm.

“If ice is necessary, apply it as quickly as possible. “Apply ice immediately if you sprain your ankle or pull a muscle while exercising,” Jake advised.

If available, use an ice pack or a bucket of ice. If not, improvise. Vegetables frozen in packages work wonderfully.

Jake stated, “In reality, frozen vegetables are typically superior.” They are more pliable and simple to shape around the uneven surface of an injury, which is preferable than a rigid block that simply contacts a portion of the damage.

Apply the ice for 20 to 30 minutes, followed by a 10-minute rest. You should do this at least four times every day, but you can do it hourly if you choose. And if 20 to 30 minutes is too painful, apply ice for 10 minutes, take a two-minute break, and then apply again.

when to employ heat

After 72 hours, or three days, the swelling should have reached its height, and you can begin applying heat. However, not for all injuries.

“Ice is still a viable therapy option for bone and joint pain,” Jake said.

“Heat is more advantageous for soft tissues and the back. It is excellent for muscles. Heat will relax muscle fibers and assist in restoring your range of motion. Heat will enhance blood circulation and warm your muscles. Therefore, apply heat before to your physical treatment session or activity.”

Utilize a heating pad, a hot tub, or even a bath tub filled with warm water – but not too hot. You can improvise as well. Fill a cloth bag with rice and heat it in the microwave, for instance. Or, dry a wet towel and then apply it to the affected region.

Unlike with ice, however, avoid direct contact with the heat source. Also, heat treatments should be limited to 15 to 20 minutes and not repeated. Once daily prior to physical activity is sufficient.

“You risk thermal burns if you stay out longer than that,” Jake added.

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