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I’m injured or sore. Should I use HEAT or ICE??

This is a very common question asked in physical therapy! Let’s break down a few pros and cons of each modality. If in doubt, you can always ask your physical therapist which one might be best for you individually!

Applying a heat pack to an injury can be beneficial for certain conditions such as arthritis, chronic pain, join contractures, and muscles spasms. Heat packs can:

  • Relax tight muscles and tissues

  • Improve circulation

  • Reduce pain

In general, heat packs should NOT be applied to an acute inflammation injury within the first 48 hours. Heat packs vasodialate, or widen, your blood vessel. This allows more blood to flow (and potentially inflammation) to the area that it is applied. Heat packs are best applied to large muscle groups to encourage muscle relaxation.

Application: use heat pack for approximately 15 minutes. The heat should then be removed for approximately 30 minutes to allow tissue to return to normal temperature.

Applying an ice pack can be beneficial for many injuries, especially those that have happened recently. Ice packs can be used on strains, sprains, bruises, and injured, sore areas of the body. Ice vasoconstricts, or narrows, blood vessels. Constricting blood vessels inhibits the body from allowing inflammation in the iced area. This is why ice is effective shortly after an injury.

Ice packs can:

  • Reduce swelling and inflammation

  • Relieve pain

Application: ice for approximately 15-20 minutes based on tolerance. The ice should then be removed for 30-60 minutes to allow the tissue to return to a normal temperature. Applying for too long could result in irreversible tissue damage. 

Remember that it’s always best to contact your health care provider or physical therapist if you have questions regarding an injury!

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