Ice vs. Heat
What is the purpose of ice when injured?
The primary purpose of ice is to assist in slowing down cellular metabolism in order to prevent secondary hypoxic injury (cellular death due to lack of oxygen). By icing consistently immediately after injury it slows down cellular metabolism and allows the cells in the soft tissue to survive with less oxygen and therefore minimizes the damage to the injured area. Also ice causes vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels) which prevents excessive swelling to form in the injured area. The final purpose of ice is to help control pain by numbing the area and therefore not allowing the nerves to transmit painful signals to the brain.
When and how often should someone ice after an injury?
Icing is most crucial during the first 48 hours, and should be done for approximately 15-20 minutes every hour to an hour and a half. Once the first 48 hours have passed icing should be utilized after any activity which may aggravate the injured area and lead to increased inflammation and swelling such as physical therapy, exercise, or after being on your feet all day. Icing should not be done prior to activity as it decreases soft tissue extensibility and can contribute to increased injury.
What is the purpose of heat?
Heat has several purposes. The first being to cause vasodilation (expanding of blood vessels), which will allow more blood flow to the area recovering from injury. Secondly heat assists in relaxing muscles which decreases muscle spasms and pain. Lastly heat increases soft tissue extensibility preparing muscles for activity and exercise.
When and how often should I heat an injury?
Heat should not be utilized until the acute phase of the injury has passed and the swelling has been controlled. This could be anywhere from 72 hours to one week after the onset of the injury. In some post-surgical cases it could be as long as 4 weeks. Heat can be applied for 10-30 minutes at a time 1-2x/day.
Rehab Plus of Ahwatukee
4730 E. Warner Rd. #5 Phoenix, AZ 85044