We all know what our favourite answer here is. I mean, who wouldn’t prefer grabbing a warm, soothing heating pad and snuggling up instead of that oh, so cold ice pack? (Especially when it’s still snowing in April!) But it turns out that the ever popular “no pain, no gain” may also be true in this situation. So before you rule out reaching into the freezer, you may want to read on.
Cryotherapy is the use of ice to reduce the temperature of tissues directly on or below the surface of the skin. We recommend the use of ice to help manage acute injuries or recent flare-ups of chronic conditions. Ice can be used multiple times a day as long as you follow a “10-minutes on/10-minutes off” pattern. Icing an injury can help to reduce swelling and inflammation, can decrease pain by numbing the area, and may also help to relieve muscle spasms.
And what about heat you might ask? Heat applied to the skin causes blood vessels to enlarge below the surface, which can help the tissues to relax. It may also help to relieve painful symptoms temporarily. Although this doesn’t sound so bad, and most days should be okay, this increase in circulation isn’t always beneficial in acute situations.
So to avoid risking an increase in pain and stiffness, it’s best to follow this simple rule: when in doubt, use ice. Ice may not feel as good at the time, and certainly won’t be as “soothing” as a nice heat pack but your body will thank you later. For athletes who are looking to enhance their performance, the rules get a little more complicated when it comes to heat but for everyday use, this is the best practice.
If you have a new injury and see it starting to bruise or swell, or think you’re having a flare-up of an old injury, grab an icepack! For days when you’re having regular muscle stiffness or tightness or want to warm up your muscles before a massage or chiropractic treatment, using heat should be just fine.