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You have an injury. All you can think about is the pain. Do you reach for the heating pad or the ice pack? Which will help the most? Warmth seems inviting, but you know that cold is a very helpful therapy. It may be hard to decipher especially when pain is clouding your mind. Making a thoughtful choice will help you feel better. Making the wrong choice can lead to adverse reactions and more pain rather than relief.

Start by knowing when to use each therapy. The simple answer is ice is for injuries; heat is for muscles, chronic pain and stress. However, that can still be confusing. For instance, a freshly pulled muscle is an injury.

When to ice

Injuries result in damaged tissue, which leads to inflammation. This is a normal process of red, hot and swollen tissue. Icing this tissue reduces the swelling, dulls the pain by numbing, and reduces bleeding. Acute injuries include ligament sprains, muscle strains and severe bruising. Damaged tissue that is sensitive to the touch, red and warm is inflamed and would benefit from icing, not heat. Common injuries that you would ice include:

  • Tendonitis or bursitis
  • Carpel tunnel syndrome
  • Tennis elbow
  • Iliotibial band syndrome (pain from hip to knee)
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (front of the knee pain)
  • Shin splints
  • Plantar fasciitis

When to heat

Muscle spasms and trigger points (or knots) that occur with chronic pain (often found in neck and back pain) tend to respond well to heat. It is an inexpensive and therapeutic way to relieve pain by relaxing the muscle dysfunction. Muscle knots are likely the most common cause of unexplained aches and pains and can lead to recurrent headaches, neck cricks and back pain. In addition, they tend to complicate other injuries.

Heat should never be used on a “fresh” injury, one that is inflamed and warm to the touch. In fact, if you add heat to an inflamed area, it will cause more swelling and pain. However, it is definitely therapeutic on back pain and pain that is aggravated by stress. Heat facilitates circulation. More blood to an aggravated area helps wash away metabolic waste that is created by muscle dysfunction and delivers much needed oxygen and nutrients to the effected muscles.

Local heating has been considered a downright cure for many issues historically. This is why natural hot springs are listed as therapeutic care. There are many ways apply heat including:

  • Heating pads
  • Thermophore pads (produce a moist heat)
  • Full body heating: hot tubs, sauna, steam room and hot shower

Trust AnMed Health Community Orthopaedics to get you back in the game. If you are experiencing unexpected pain, call 864.716.6140 today to make an appointment.

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