Lots of people ask us when should we use ice or heat? Both these modalities can be good for pain relief so it can be tricky to know when you should use one or the other.
Ice is a natural pain killer and has anti-inflammatory effects. Ice helps with inflammation by contracting your blood vessels and reducing blood flow, swelling and inflammation to the site of injury. Heat also helps with pain but has the opposite effect. It enlarges your blood vessels and by doing so increases blood flow to the area.
Ice should be used when you have a new injury that causes swelling and inflammation. This ACUTE stage of injury usually lasts for 24-72 hours. Heat should never be applied in the first three days after a new injury but can be used after that to help with pain, healing and for relaxation.
How to apply ice correctly?
Straight after an acute injury you should follow the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) principle.
Ice should initially be applied for 20 minutes on then twenty minutes off. Continue to apply ice like this for the first few hours. After this continue to ice for 20 minutes every hour or two. If possible elevate and compress the injured area. Always use a barrier between the ice and your skin (i.e. towel) to prevent ice burns on your skin.