How to Use Ice and Heat
I GET ASKED EVERY DAY IN THE OFFICE HOW AND WHEN TO USE ICE AND HEAT TO HELP HEAL BACK AND NECK PAIN. HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Generally, you want to use ice when something is acute (first 48-72 hours after injury) to minimize pain and inflammation. After that time, heat can be helpful to relax tight muscles and promote further healing.
Smaller body parts should be iced for 10 minutes, larger body parts can be iced for up to 20 minutes. Here’s a quick guide:
10 min – Neck, elbow, wrist, hand, ankle, foot, fingers
15 min – Mid Back, shoulder, knee
20 min – Low back, pelvis, thigh
Ice can be used as little as 2 times a day and as frequently as once an hour.
A convenient way to create an ice pack is to put some crushed ice in a plastic bag. In a pinch, a bag of frozen peas also works well. It’s important to place a paper towel between the ice and your skin to minimize the chance of irritation.
While ice can be very helpful to lessen inflammation and pain, it also tends to stiffen muscles, so try to stretch a bit after using ice to keep your muscles loose.
Note: If you have a severe injury of an extremity, it’s important to follow the acronym "P-R-I-C-E" - Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression & Elevation. We’ll cover that in another newsletter.
After the first 72 hours after an injury heat can be very helpful. Heat enhances blood flow, which is soothing and promotes healing. I also like heat for helping to loosen up chronic muscle tightness.
Heat and inflammation are a bad combination, so when using heat for the first time I like to do a test to make sure that you’re not going to irritate the area by increasing any inflammation. Do this by using heat for 2-3 minutes and seeing how you feel. If you feel an increase in pain and swelling, go back to using ice for another day or two. If the heat feels good, keep it on for about 15 minutes. You can use heat 2-3 times a day.
I prefer moist heat over dry heat. I find that it penetrates better and it's more soothing. There are a few companies that make electric moist heating pads (one brand I like is Thermophore), or you can get something called a hydrcollator, which is a little less convenient to use, but very effective. Call me and I’ll give you instructions on how to use it
Some minor injuries are self-limiting and get better with the right self-care. But if you have something that isn’t healing on its own, come into the office for an evaluation so we can start treatment and rehab right away.
Until the next time…
Dr. Russell Charno