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Ice or Heat? What is best for my injury?

After enduring some for of tear, sprain or bruise it can difficult to determine what is the best form of treatment: ice or heat?

Generally speaking, ice is best to use for anything that is red, swollen or hot. Think of tears, sprains or bruises, especially initially after the injury has occurred. Ice can be beneficial to numb the area if there is pain present. If there is also bruising or bleeding present, it can help constrict the blood vessels in the area to limit and reduce the presence of swelling and bleeding. Ice is mainly used during the acute stage of an injury, but can also be used mainly for pain-relief during the sub-acute and chronic phases of an injury. The main use of ice therapy is through the application of an ice pack to the affected area.

It is important to note that while traditionally we have readily used ice initially after some form of injury in order to minimize pain and swelling, these are normal reactions of the body trying to alert you to protect the affected area (pain) and facilitate healing mediators to the injured area in the form of swelling and we don’t want to block these things altogether or in the long-term. This is another reason why anti-inflammatory medications are not recommended in the long-term for injuries.

During the sub-acute and chronic stages of an injury, the type of treatment applied will depend on your symptoms – that is the presence of pain, swelling, heat, as well as tightness in the surrounding tissues and muscles. While heat might be cautioned initially so as to not increase swelling and bleeding in the affected area, this aspect would be beneficial in latter stages of recovery in order to increase blood flow to the affected area and improve tissue elasticity if there is tightness present by dilating the blood vessels in the affected area.

If you are unsure whether to use ice or heat, speak to your local physiotherapist or qualified health professional. As mentioned above, a number of factors need to be considered including the stage of injury you are in and your symptoms.

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