Author: Dr. Sims
Hey Guys, Dr. Sims here. Today we are going to talk about a controversial topic. Books have been written about it. Movies have been made about it. Country songs have been sung about it. What are we talking about?
Ice vs Heat!!
Ok, so maybe it has not been that dramatic but if you do a search online about which to use, you will find a lot of different opinions…should I use ice…should I use heat? So…what’s the right answer? Is there a right answer? Today we’ll tackle this topic and hopefully give you some clarity.
When a patient asks me which to use, I first need to figure out what their goals are. What’s the purpose and what are they trying to accomplish.
I think it’s important to understand what the body is doing when it gets injured.
Let’s say you sprain your ankle, for example. Yes, there is definitely going to be pain…that’s the body’s way of telling you it doesn’t like what you just did…and I’m sure we can agree with the body there. Also, pain in an acute injury is the body’s way of saying, leave me alone and don’t touch me so I can heal.
Next, there is going to be swelling. So is swelling good or bad? Now, we’re not talking about allergic reactions… When there is an injury…Swelling is always a good thing! Swelling does a couple of things. It brings much-needed nutrients and healing factors to the area to speed up the healing process. As the healing process continues the excess fluid in the area also flushes out waste.
Now, in the case of the ankle, swelling acts like a kind of splint and immobilizes the joint so you can’t move it. You’ll find this is a trend in the body…especially in joints. The body will do what it has to in order to immobilize an injured area.
For example, in the spine, you will find some swelling but the biggest immobilizer the body has in the spine are the muscles. They will tighten up in an effort to limit the motion of the spine. Think of the last time you had a stiff neck or back. I bet you thought…I need a massage. You get a massage and feel better for a short time but the muscles tend to tighten up again. That’s because the area is injured and needs to protect itself while it heals.
So now let’s look at what Ice and Heat do.
Ice can be used to reduce inflammation and reduce pain. Heat can sometimes have a soothing effect on chronic pain and it mostly helps by relaxing muscles. You should be careful with heat though because it increases the movement of fluid in an area and it is never recommended in an acute injury.
Most professionals recommend icing an acute injury…but again I ask what your goals are. Yes, Ice can help to reduce pain and inflammation. But I believe it can also slow down the healing process. This body of ours has a tremendous amount of intelligence in it. It always does something for a reason and despite what you may have been told; it always does it in the exact amounts necessary. Unfortunately, this is not always convenient for our lives. We still want to move, work and play. But if you have the time…let the body heal and do what it does best and don’t use ice or heat.
Yes, sometimes we can do things and help speed up the healing process but remember; the body heals itself as long as any interference is removed.
So when you are trying to decide, should I use Ice, should I use heat or should I use neither. You need to think about what your goals are, what you are trying to accomplish, and what kind of timeline you have to work with. Then you can come to a decision about what best suits your situation.