Should You Ice It or Heat It?
Pain is incredibly common, impacting the lives of a hundred million people globally. Let’s look at the best approach when it comes to heating, icing, and overall recovery.
Pain: a common part of life
According to figures from 1999, 100 million people worldwide suffer with chronic pain. These numbers don’t even include the acute injuries that occur every day to people from all walks of life. As outlined in a 2011 article in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, the real number of injuries is much higher than research suggests since many resolve themselves with at-home care and don’t involve medical visits (from which the bulk of statistics are compiled).
Pain doesn’t just involve strains and sprains but conditions such as headaches, migraines, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis (OA) – conditions that are experienced by many people as well. For example, nearly 50% of people will suffer from symptomatic knee osteoarthritis by the time they get to age 85, according to the CDC.
Icing vs. heating: what’s the best approach?
Since no one wants to have to visit the emergency room every time they get a bruise or have a flareup of OA, it’s important to know the best at-home treatments. Thermotherapy (the use ice and heat) is recommended by many experts. However, you want to make sure you are warming or cooling the tissue appropriately, so the treatment is effective:
- Athletic injuries: The basic rule of thumb is that ice is best when the pain is acute, whereas heat is helpful when your condition is chronic. However, both can actually make sense in combination – after the first 48 hours. “Moist heat helps to loosen injured muscles before activity or stretching,” says physical therapist Carol Ferkovic Mack. “Icing afterward can minimize pain.”
- Headaches or migraines: Use a cold wrap over your temples, eyes, and forehead. Use a heat wrap for your neck, to reduce spasming.
- Arthritis: “Patients with more chronic osteoarthritis usually feel better with heat,” notes rheumatologist Linda Mileti, MD. However, Dr. Mileti has found that ice is a better approach for gout.
You want to ice or heat for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Typically experts recommend using these methods every 2 or 3 hours; but at a minimum, take at least a 20-minute break between treatments. Options include moist heat, heat wraps, heating pads, ice packs, ice massage, and cold masks.
Recovery from your pain condition
Are you in pain? Knowing the right approach when it comes to icing vs. heating is just one aspect of pain relief and getting back your quality of life. At Health Star Clinic, you’ll receive a comprehensive diagnosis and custom treatments that go beyond the band-aid approach of prescription medication and a follow-up visit. Get help now!