Treating Pain and Injuries with Cold or Heat
By Jennifer Smith, Physical Therapist, Pakolea Rehab
If you’ve ever had an injury and wondered whether to apply cold or heat, you’re not alone – it’s a common uncertainty. Applying the incorrect agent can be more irritating than relieving. In general, ice is used on recent injuries and heat is used for more long standing injures once the inflammation has subsided.
As a Physical Therapist at Molokai’s Pakolea Rehab, I recommend the utilization of ice on new injuries up to 72 hours, or three days. The ice application will help minimize inflammation caused by the initial trauma and the leakage of blood into the surrounding tissue from ruptured capillaries. Ice will help constrict the blood vessels which will help relieve inflammation, reduce swelling and numb pain. Cold can be applied as an ice pack with ice cubes and a small amount of water in a zip-lock bag, frozen vegetables (be sure not to consume after thawing), or a frozen mixture of three cups water and one cup rubbing alcohol in a zip-lock bag. Always be sure to place the cold agent in a pillow case to create a barrier before placing it on the skin. Cold packs should never be placed directly on the skin. The application duration should be between 15 and 20 minutes and may be performed frequently through the day. Be sure to allow the skin to return to normal color and temperature before the next application. In addition, be cautious using ice for treatment of injuries if one has circulation problems or decreased sensation.
The use of heat helps increase blood flow to the applied region. For this reason, heat should only be utilized once inflammation and swelling resolves. Heat may be useful for sore and tight muscles, stiff joints, chronic pain and chronic sprain/strains. Heat can also be beneficial before exercise to warm up the connective tissue (utilize ice following exercise). Heat can be applied with an electric heating pad, warm compresses, or a hot shower/bath. Similar to ice application, heat should be applied for 20 minutes with frequent applications during the day. Be cautious not to become overheated and allow skin to return to normal color and temperature before re-application.
If you have any further questions regarding the application of heat or cold with certain injuries or conditions, please do not hesitate to call me at Pakolea Rehap, located in the Moore Center in Kaunakakai, at 808-553-5199.