Do these look familiar? Most people have at least one, if not both of the above stashed somewhere at home.
The question is when should you use a heat pack and when should you ice?
This is a commonly asked question. Looking at all the conflicting information out there, it is no surprise that it can get confusing.
Ice and heat have different effects on the body and therefore have different purposes.
Ice when applied to the body causes constriction of blood vessels and slows down the metabolic processes that are occurring in that area. This helps decrease pain and control excessive inflammation that can be caused by injury.
Ice is best used for:
1. Acute sprains, strains and bruising of muscles and ligaments. Think of ankle sprains or pulled hamstrings.
2. Chronic overuse injuries such as tendinopathies and patellofemoral syndrome
3. Post surgical wound swelling
There is some current research that suggests that ice is helpful in managing pain for those suffering from gout. Also, it has been found to be useful for decreasing swelling and maintaining movement for those with knee osteoarthritis. When trying to apply ice to these areas, I find a bag of frozen peas moulds really nicely around joints.
What about using heat packs or hot water bottles? When is heat useful?
When heat is applied to the body, it causes dilation of nearby blood vessels. This increases circulation to the local area and can ease muscle tension, joint stiffness and decrease associated pain.
Heat is best used for:
1. Muscle spasm, tightness or cramping, such as low back pain.
2. Joint stiffness
3. Muscle ache from exercise, such as DOMs after a long run.
Great ways to use heat are hot water bottles, microwaveable heat packs and warm showers. When using heat, make sure you wrap your heat pack or hot water bottle in a towel and keep checking your skin every 10-15 minutes to avoid burning yourself.
Heat and ice are useful ways to help manage pain from injuries, but it is important to know when to use what. A general rule of thumb is that heat works for the muscles whilst ice is best for joints and/or swelling.
Have you tried using heat or ice to help recover from an injury? Did it work for you?