By: Annie Morgan
When you are sore after a workout or have pain in your back or leg – do you reach for an ice pack or seek to use your heating pad?
While both heat and ice are used to treat pain in the body, they are not always interchangeable.
In fact, many people assume either heat or ice will work, but the truth is one is better than the other, depending on what you are trying to heal.
So before you reach for your heating pad or ice pack – check out the best uses for heat and ice.
When To Use Ice
Cold therapy is best to reduce inflammation and swelling, although there are still conflicting opinions on if this is always best.
Think of applying ice to a freshly injured area on the body.
For example, should you suspect you sprained your ankle, an icepack should be applied to your elevated ankle immediately.
Many people with nerve pain also find relief from cold therapy, as the cold can reduce the nerve activity temporarily, reports Healthline.
In fact, some people are so determined to find relief from the pain they are immersing their entire body in a cold chamber.
But if you feel stiff and tight – ice can make your injury worse.
Other medical conditions like diabetes can cause one to lose feeling in certain areas of the body, and applying ice might cause damage without being able to sense when it is too cold.
Of course, ice packs should never be applied directly to the skin as it could cause severe burns.
When To Use Heat
If your muscles are sore, you might find relief from either dry or moist heat.
The heat improves the blood flow to the targeted areas, which can cause your muscles to relax and become more flexible.
However, it’s important to avoid heat if you suspect you have a sprain or a swollen area.
If you have a fresh injury and apply heat – it’s bound to get worse and swell!
Other chronic medical conditions become exasperated with heat – so make sure you check with your doctor should you choose heat therapy.
Others find relief from using a combination of both hot and cold therapy.
Contrasting both heat and cold can help bring comfort to those who have chronic conditions like plantar fasciitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Pain Science recommends the following protocol for applying hot and cold:
“about 2 minutes of heating: comfortably hot
about 1 minute of cooling: cool, not cold (unless you’re tough)
about 2 minutes of heating: hotter!
about 1 minute of cooling: colder!
about 2 minutes of heating: hot as you can handle
about 1 minute of cooling: cold as you can handle.”
Depending on what area of your body hurts, this method could be effective.
So next time you have an injury, make sure you avoid applying the wrong treatment.
Without even realizing it, you could end up making your pain worse.
When you are injured, do you typically reach for an ice pack or heating pad?
Were you surprised to learn there was a different use for each one?
Tell us your thoughts in the comments below and be sure to share this article with your friends and family to let them know how to choose between heat or ice when injured!