Ice Pack or Heat Pad: How Do You Treat An Injury?

elbow pain from tennis

Do you know when to use an ice pack and when to apply heat to an injury? Your chances of a speedy and uncomplicated recovery are increased if you use the right therapy.

Whether you’ve rolled your ankle while walking the dog, or woken up with a stiff neck, how you treat the pain will depend on how the injury looks. Osteopath George Asproukos explains.

So, is an ice pack or heat the best approach for treating an injury? The answer is you need to tailor your approach according to how the soft tissue appears when you examine it.

When to fetch an ice pack for an injury

If the affected area is RED, HOT and SWOLLEN, then the best approach is to follow the R.I.C.E.R acronym – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation and Referral.

  • Rest – stop the activity immediately to avoid further injury,
  • Ice – apply an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the affected area. The general guide is to apply ice for 10 minutes every 1hour, for the first 24-48 hours.
  • Compression – apply a bandage to the affected area to control swelling and bleeding. Be careful not to apply the bandage so tight that it’s painful.
  • Elevation – helps reduce bleeding and swelling.
  • Referral – make an Osteopathic appointment to specifically treat the condition.

The “self-care” approach to R.I.C.E.R is best used within a 48-hour window of the initial injury. It’s a very good pain reliever, controls excessive swelling and reduces blood pooling which can add days or even weeks to the healing process.

When to turn up the heat on an injury

If your injury is NOT red, hot, and swollen, then heat is the best option. Applying heat, improves blood flow to the injury site, eases contracted muscles and alleviates stress on associated joints and ligaments. This should serve to decrease symptoms and improve the function of the affected area.

Heat may be applied in many ways:

  • creams and ointments
  • a poultice
  • a shower and/or bath
  • gentle specific range movement exercises
  • or any combination of the above

Heat is more commonly used with people who have sub-acute or chronic injuries. These are injuries that have been around longer than a week or two and might have been subject to ongoing wear and tear, or re-injury.

It’s important to note that these self-care strategies are not a substitute for a comprehensive treatment approach. They are guidelines, designed to help people at the point of injury, or with managing the ongoing effects of an injury. It’s very important to seek out professional help if the symptoms persist or if they substantially affect your ability to carry out your day-to-day activities.

Whatever your self-management strategy – R.I.C.E.R or heat – an Osteopath can undertake a more thorough examination and diagnosis of your injury should you be concerned about it.

In most cases of acute injury, research suggests that, once the 48 hour period has passed, a series of controlled range of motion exercises and gradual weight-bearing activities will help get you back on your feet sooner. With sub-acute or chronic injuries, best practice is to get you back to pre-injury levels of activity.  This sometimes means a carefully staged process of gentle increases in exercise and activity.

If you have injured yourself or are dealing with an old injury, make an appointment with one of our Osteopaths today so we can get you back to your optimum health.

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