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Heat or Ice: When to Use What

By Sara Butler

Over the course of your life you should expect to get injured, it’s just kind of the way things work. You can suffer from a wide range of things, such as subluxations, muscle sprains and strains, and broken bones. Hopefully, you can avoid serious injury, but it’s the little things that can often lead to much larger problems. Chiropractic care is one way you can help to stay healthy, but understanding how and when to use ice and heat for your injuries is one of the most important things you can file away in your mental filing cabinet. Here’s the breakdown of when ice is going to be best or when you should put some heat on it.

Ice: When You Should Use It

If you’ve ever sprained an ankle, slipped and fallen down, or gotten hit during a sporting endeavor, then you probably applied ice to your injury – as you should have. Ice is best used in situations where it’s important to control inflammation of the tissue in order to reduce damage and keep your pain level in check right away.

The sooner you can apply ice to an injury the better, but you actually have about a 24-hour window to get ice on it. Apply ice to the injured area for 15 minutes, then take it off for 30 minutes, making sure to use something to protect your skin from the cold, such as a towel. Icing an injury isn’t always going to be comfortable, but you’ve got to get through the cold and burning stages of ice application to reach the numbness stage – where you want to be!

Heat: When to Use It

Applying heat when you should be applying ice can make your injury worse, which is why it’s important to understand when you should be applying ice versus heat. When you suffer a traumatic injury, the body tries to protect itself by creating inflammation to help it heal. You will often notice the area to be hot from the inflammation, so applying heat to it is not a great idea. In fact, it will increase the inflammation and may lead to more tissue damage.

You should use heat when you feel stiff and you feel like you want to stretch a muscle, but stretching doesn’t help to bring relief. Heat will relax the tissue and help bring blood to the area to help combat the feeling of tightness and stiffness. Moist heat is going to be your best bet, so try a hot water bottle or a hot shower to help bring you some relief. Pro tip: Applying heat after a chiropractic adjustment will probably help you feel fabulous!

If you need more clarification about when heat or ice would be the most beneficial, discuss it with your chiropractor during your next visit to The Joint Chiropractic.

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