Let’s start here. If you’re really, really hurt – or think you may be, or are wrestling with a nagging, acute pain, you may want to check-in with a medical professional. With that said, the repetitive activity that is running can sometimes leave you sore, hurting, and seeking relief. The good news is that not every ache or pain requires a trip to your doctor’s office. Applying the right at-home therapy can go a long way to getting you back up-and-running asap.
A question that often looms for those of us seeking that DIY relief: ice or heat? And, which one is a better fix for the type of injury were wrestling with. We asked Dr. Doug Bradberry from Greenapple Sports and Wellnessfor his take on how to make the right call here.
How do we know whether an injury requires ice or heat?
The only time I recommend using ice to my patients is in the first 4-6 hours after an injury; 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. This will help with the initial pain.
Heat is going to be used later in the healing process. Likely, depending on the severity , after a couple weeks. It will help get blood to the area and help loosen the tight tissues and make it easier to move. Ultimately, movement and appropriate exercises is what will speed up healing the fastest.
What’s the best way to apply each type of therapy?
When applying ice, you want to make sure you have some kind of barrier between the ice and your skin. Also limit the application time to 15 minutes. Ice or frost directly on the skin can cause frostbite. Ice will also cause the blood vessels to constrict. So you don’t want it on the injury very long.
Heat should to be applied for about the same rate; 15 minutes, once per hour. Be sure the temperature is not too hot, and place the heat pack on top of the area. Do not place the body part on top of the heat pack. If you’re using heat on your low back, for example, don’t sit on the couch with the heat trapped between your back and the cushions. This can trap too much heat and cause a burn.
What are signs that I should seek help from a professional?
First thing you will pay attention to after an injury is what the area looks like. You’ll want to rule out a broken bone if there is a noticeably deformity, significant immediate swelling or if you are unable to move the body part.
A sprained ankle for example…if after you roll your ankle, you are able to move it and walk, chances are it is not broken. But, if it does not seem to be improving after 48-72 hours, seeing a medical professional would be appropriate.
Dr. Bradberry sums it up like this: The benefit of using ice is pain relief. Things don’t hurt as much when they’re numb. But, he cautions, using ice long term can slow the healing process.
Depending on the injury, heat is more likely to facilitate healing because it brings blood to the area. Blood contains the oxygen and nutrients that the tissue needs to heal.