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When is it Appropriate to use Ice or Heat to Treat Pain?

by in Chiropractic Care, Medical Care, Physical Therapy and Rehab, Wellness April 15, 2013

Heat or ice can be an effective treatment for pain in between Chiropractic visits or after injuries. Generally, you’ll see therapist use this in form of hot packs or cold packs when you’re in our office.
The rule of thumb with cold is if an area is red, swollen, hot/warm to the touch, or if it’s an acute injury, meaning an injury that has occurred within twenty-four to forty-eight hours, we want to cool the area down and prevent any type of inflammation. Ice is also effective for treating chronic pain, pain that has been present in the area for six months or longer. Place ice that has been wrapped in a paper towel over the source of pain for no longer than fifteen to twenty minutes. Ice may be used multiple times in a day but only after the skin has returned to room temperature.
Heat will generally be used for increasing blood flow, circulation, and flexibility. Moist heat packs should be applied at your Doctor’s instruction due to the adverse effects that can occur. Heat may produce too much swelling when used for extended periods of time, which may feel good initially, but will cause more pain later. Never use heat longer than a twenty minute time period.
You can use heat or cold in conjunction with one another. Apply heat to the area of pain for ten minutes, remove and replace with ice for another ten minutes. Always finish with ice. This will help with decreasing inflammation that may be caused by the use of heat.
We carry Hot/Cold packs in our office for the convenience of our patients and would be happy to answer any questions that one may have regarding the use of these products.

-Written by Mary Gipson, CTA

3 Comments
  1. I have never known whether it is better to use heat or ice on wounds, so this is very helpful. It’s interesting to know that ice is best for “acute injuries”, and maybe not so helpful for older ones. However, I have heard of heat or ice pads that cause additional injury instead of helping. Do you have any advice on buying the right pack?

    • The important thing is not so much which pack you use but how you use the heat/ ice. Most injuries from heat or ice are from inappropriate use (i.e. falling asleep with the heating pad or ice pack, reapplying ice to soon, etc) Make sure you are limiting the time 10-20 minutes of each; do no fall asleep with heat/ ice on your body. Also, when using ice put a towel between the ice pack and your skin. The cold will still penetrate through the barrier but it will protect the skin from becoming too cold. Always make sure to let the skin come back to temperature before reapplying the ice otherwise you can frostbite yourself.

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