When to use heat and when to use ice is a topic which causes a lot of confusion. Using heat/ice in the wrong circumstances can actually contribute to pain so the following guidelines are important to know. In general ice is used on an acute injury or inflammation, while heat is used for muscle or chronic pain.
When ice is applied it quickly constricts blood vessels which helps decrease bloodflow, all the chemical reactions in the area are reduced to a crawl including those which contribute to swelling and inflammation. When the ice is then removed fresh blood is pumped to the area which helps with the healing process. Therefore ice is suitable for:
• The first 24 to 48 hours of an injury (e.g. ankle sprain, muscle tear).
• On an injury which is causing inflammation or swelling.
• Immediately after a hard training session or match, as this will reduce any inflammation resulting from the session and aid recovery
When heat is applied it opens up blood vessels allowing for increased bloodflow which delivers nutrient rich blood to the area. Heat is then suitable for:
• Muscle spasm or tension
• Chronic pain such as lower back pain or neck pain
• On a recent injury once the inflammation has reduced (e.g. 2-4 days after a muscle tear)
It is generally advised to never use ice with a chronic injury and it is essential to never use heat where there is inflammation. Be very careful not to burn yourself when applying ice/heat, always use a protective wrap around both. Apply ice for 10/15 minutes, remove for 45/50 minutes and then repeat. Pharmacy approved heatpacks are suitable to wear all day, but stronger forms of heat such as a hotwater bottle should be left in one area for no longer than 20 minutes.