Ice or heat – what is better for pain?

There is so much confusion about whether to use ice or heat after an injury or surgery. The good news is both ice and heat are beneficial self-treatment options with minimal risk.

Ice is best for injuries and surgeries. Ice calms down tissues that are inflamed, red, hot and swollen. It increases blood flow to the tissue and, when that happens, it takes out the garbage and brings in new building blocks. Think about a time when you’ve been outside in the winter and gotten really cold. Then, shortly after you came back inside, you got flushed and warm. Icing has the same effect on the affected area.

Heat is for muscle tightness, chronic pain and stress. It is soothing to the nervous system. For example, when you spend the day at the beach and get warm in the sun, you feel a little like a wet noodle. That’s the effect heat has on the body. It relaxes muscle tone and allows the blood to tend to pool closer to the skin.

Both ice and heat can have a positive effect if used correctly. They also can be combined to have a powerful effect. Simply apply 5 -10 minutes of ice, followed by 5-10 minutes of heat. This allows for blood flow to be constricted and then encouraged. This back and forth action can help an injury or post-surgery recovery, when most of the inflammation has decreased and you want to start gaining mobility or relaxation of those muscles.


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