Ice and Heat: two of the most common remedies for soothing tight muscles and reducing pain. However, knowing which modality, to ice or heat, is right for your condition is often confusing.
Ice treatment should be used for acute injuries during the first 48 hours. By using ice, you will decrease swelling to the surrounding area and produce anesthesia, allowing a reduction in pain. Ice packs, ice water immersion, and vapocoolant sprays are popular methods that most people use to recover from new injuries. Ice treatment should not be applied for longer than 20 minutes per session. It is also recommended that a thin barrier be applied over the skin to help reduce irritation and prevent damage to the tissue.
Heat treatment is recommended for chronic injuries. By applying heat you will increase circulation to the surrounding area, causing the tissue to relax and loosen. Heating pads, hot/moist towels, and hot showers are the most popular methods that people use to recover from a chronic injury. Heat treatment should not last longer than 20 minutes per session. To avoid the potential for burning, never fall asleep while using heating pads or hot/moist towels.
Clinical Note: When dealing with a sub-acute or chronic injury that is not responding to heat or ice alone, try icing the injured area at night (before bed) for 20 minutes to help decrease the inflammation that has accrued throughout the work day. Then start the morning with 20 minutes of heat to increase circulation and decrease the stiff and achy feeling. Continue to apply heat throughout the day as needed, and then repeat the cycle. If symptoms persist call your health care professional.