Painful Injury: HEAT or ICE?
You just sprained or strained a muscle. What should you do? You know that some people use heat or ice to decrease the pain but you don't know which one, or how or when to use it.
When an injury occurs, swelling develops almost immediately and persists for about 48 hours. During this initial period and as soon as possible, use ice to stop the swelling and to minimize pain. Apply ice for 10 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours while awake, being careful not to apply it directly on the skin (to avoid frostbite) and not to exceed recommended application time. Do not apply heat during this period. Because of its cooling effect, ice reduces blood supply to the area that is injured, limits swelling, and reduces pain. This limits tissue damage as well as the risk of bleeding. Ordinary ice works very well, although there are synthetic substances available. Simply place a few whole or crushed ice cubes in a plastic bag and wrap it in a wet towel. Apply the ice to the injured area. If there is a lot of swelling, it may help to apply a pressure bandage as well and elevate the affected limb above the heart.
Caution: Ice is not recommended if you have circulation problems, anemia, Raynaud's disease or syndrome (abnormal closure of the blood vessels in response to cold), an open or infected sore or cold urticaria
The swelling usually stabilizes after about two days. The body then works to repair the damaged tissues and reduce the swelling. At this point, or later, if inflammation persists, apply heat to the injured area, since heat activates blood flow, facilitates the healing process, and relieves pain. Apply heat for 15 to 30 minutes, 4 times a day. Use moist heat preferably, from a hot water bottle, for example. Protect the skin from burns by wrapping the hot water bottle with a towel.
Caution: Heat is not recommended if you have circulation problems, bleeding, an open or infected sore or a cancerous tumor where the heat is to be applied.
Who and when to seek medical advice
Consult a health care professional (ex.: physician, physiotherapist) if:
- the measures above do not provide relief;
- pain increases;
- there is a loss of mobility in the affected area;
- pain is disturbing sleep;
- rest has not helped improve the situation.
" Use this information intelligently and always exercise caution! "
For more information:
Canadian Physiotherapy Association
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The patient information leaflets are provided by Vigilance Santé Inc. This content is for information purposes only and does not in any manner whatsoever replace the opinion or advice of your health care professional. Always consult a health care professional before making a decision about your medication or treatment.