Ice therapy reduces blood flow to an injured area. This slows the rate of inflammation and reduces the risk of swelling and tissue damage. It also acts as a mild local anesthetic, by numbing sore tissues, and slows down the pain messages being transmitted to your brain.
Ice can help treat a swollen and inflamed joint or muscle. It is most effective within 48 hours of an injury. Rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) are part of the standard treatment for sports injuries. Ice should not be applied directly to the bony portions of the spinal column.
Ice therapy can help in cases of:
- a recent injury
- tendinitis, or irritation in the tendons following activity
- Migraine (wrap a cold cloth around your forehead)
You can purchase a cold compress or a chemical cold pack however there are cheaper DIY options at home. A cold compress can be made by filling a plastic bag with frozen vegetables or ice and wrapping it in a dry cloth. Or alternatively, you can immerse the affected area into a cold (but not freezing) water.
Applying heat to an inflamed area will dilate the blood vessels, promote blood flow, and help sore and tightened muscles relax. By improving your blood circulation through heat, you can help eliminate the build up of lactic acid waste occurs after some types of exercise.
Heat therapy is usually more effective than cold at treating chronic muscle pain or sore joints caused by arthritis.
Heat Therapy is useful for relieving:
- strains and sprains
- tendonitis, or chronic irritation and stiffness in the tendons
- warming up stiff muscles or tissue before activity
- relieving pain or spasms relating to neck or back injury, including the lower back
- prevent some types of headaches (when applying heat to your neck)
A simple hot bath can relieve some types of pain. Ideally you should have the water between 33 and 37.7 degrees.
There are many heat patches and products available online, however a bath, hot water bottle or wheat bag in the microwave can provide great, effective treatment.
When should I use both?
Repetitive strain injuries can take a long time to heal and by contrasting heat/ice therapies can relieve pain.
A combination of hot/cold therapy can help people with conditions such as:
- plantar fasciitis
- shin splints
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- tennis elbow
- achilles tendinitis
- runner’s knee
Heat and cold treatment may not be suitable for people with diabetic neuropathy or another condition that reduces sensations of hot or cold, such as Raynaud’s syndrome, or if they are very young or old, or have cognitive or communication difficulties.
It may be hard to know when the heat or cold is excessive in these cases.
If you are unsure about using these treatments, organise a time to see a health professional. If you have tried these therapies and still have chronic pain, it may be time to visit an Osteopath.