Heat or ice? It’s one of the most common questions we receive. While it is difficult to generalize all pain and injuries, there are a few simple rules that you can follow to help in your recovery.
Ice is most appropriate for initial (or acute) stages of an injury. Ice helps control pain levels and constricts the blood flow to areas around the injury. This decreases the amount of particles that promote inflammation at the site of the issue. Inflammation is an important part of the healing process initially, but can be more damaging if it continues to linger.
During the first week or so after an injury, icing is usually appropriate to promote healing. Try icing for 10 to 20 minutes (or until the area is numb). You can ice multiple times during the day, especially early on in the healing process. If you have any issues with cold sensitivity or have decreased sensation in the painful/swollen area, ice may not be a good choice. If you notice any irritation to the skin that lasts for longer than expected or increases your pain, stop using ice immediately.
Ice during later stages of healing may actually hinder the healing process because it constricts the blood flow to tissues in need. Instead of icing, using cold packs for shorter periods of time are more beneficial for pain reduction without the negative side effects. At the later stages of healing, heat and appropriate exercises to bring additional blood flow to the area are more appropriate.