Pain Management: Ice or Heat?

Posted on February 17th, 2016 by Orthopaedic Specialty Group

Pain Management Fairfield | Milford | Shelton | Trumbull | Ice Or Heat

When it comes to dealing with joint and muscle pain, hot and cold therapy are two of the cheapest, easiest means of self-treatment that we have available. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misconception surrounding these two approaches.

Cryotherapy and thermotherapy – or ice packs and heating pads – are polar opposites of each other, so why do we think of them as interchangeable? Truth is, ice works great at treating some types of pain, but is ineffective at treating other types. The same could be said for heat.

In this article, we will break down which option is more appropriate given your situation.

When to use ice

As a rule of thumb, ice should be used to treat new injuries. When you suffer from a traumatic injury, such as a sprained ankle, the tissue in the affected area becomes inflamed. This swelling and inflammation compresses nearby nerves, leading to pain.

When ice is applied, your blood vessels tighten, reducing blood flow and resulting in less swelling. Ice also has a numbing affect, helping to reduce your body’s pain triggers. When using ice, always wrap your cold pack in a towel and never apply it for more than 20 minutes at a time.

When to use heat

Generally speaking, heat is used to treat chronic pain, overworked muscles, and injuries that are more than a day old. The muscles in your body become sore due to a buildup of lactic acid. When there isn’t enough bloodflow, this lactic acid accumulates in your muscles and leads to aches and pains.

Heat therapy works by stimulating bloodflow, helping to increase the supply of blood, and thus nutrients, to the sore area. Heat pads are best used before your workout, in order to warm up your muscles and prepare them for exercise. Using a heat pad after physical activity can actually aggravate existing pain.

This infographic from Cleveland Clinic sums everything up in one nice illustration.

When hot and cold therapy aren’t enough, it’s time to consult with a doctor. The medical professionals at Orthopaedic Specialty Group have been helping Connecticut residents overcome bone, joint, and muscle pain for decades. We are Fairfield County’s largest orthopedic practice, and offer a variety of pain management solutions. Call us at (203) 337-2600 to schedule your appointment today.