Temperature Treatment: When to Use Heat or Ice for Injuries
The amount of easily accessible and over-the-counter temperature therapy options is ever-growing and, for many patients, intimidating to choose from. Where there are thermal patches and saunas, there are also cooling gels and cryotherapy chambers — but knowing when to use which type of treatment is an incredibly important part of the recovery process. Below are a few general rules to follow when using heat or ice to treat an injury.
When to Use Heat
Heat is an effective treatment for promoting circulation and mobility, which is why it is often used to alleviate stiffness or soreness. To relieve aches and discomfort in more chronic conditions such as arthritis, patients may use heat therapies such as:
- Sauna sessions
- Heating pads
- Warm or hot baths
Hot therapy treatments should never be used on open wounds or bruised areas. Furthermore, heat should only be applied temporarily — no longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time — to prevent burns and skin irritation.
When to Use Ice
Cold treatments decrease blood flow in the areas of application, which reduces swelling and pain. These are commonly used in the earliest stages of an injury and for injuries that cause bruising or inflammation, such as tendonitis or muscle strains. Popular cold therapy treatments include:
- Ice pack application
- Bathing in ice
As with any other form of injury treatment, ice should always be applied with care. Never apply ice directly to the skin and avoid applying ice for more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time, as prolonged use of ice therapy treatments can irritate the skin.
When to Use Either
Although specific injuries may best respond to specific temperature therapies, there are ailments for which either heat or ice may provide relief — such as headaches. In addition, heat and ice treatments may be combined with other methods of relief, including rest and NSAIDs. However, any long-term treatment plan should first be evaluated by an orthopaedist.
Personalized Injury Treatment in St. Augustine
Temperature is a primary treatment factor for relieving mild and chronic discomfort, but the difference between hot and cold can determine whether an injury heals or worsens. At Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine, our team of orthopaedic specialists is here to help you apply the right treatment for your specific injury, analyze how your body responds, and make any necessary adjustments throughout the healing process. Fill out our online request form or contact the office at 904-825-0540 to schedule an appointment.
Casey McClone, MD
Board Certifications in Family Medicine and Sports Medicine. Dr. McClone specializes in treating musculoskeletal pain for patients of all ages with ultra-sound guided injections.