Ah, the heat vs. ice debate. One of the great conundrums of our time. While I may sound sarcastic (maybe just a bit), the struggle is real. I’ve been asked this question more times than I’ve eaten breakfast, so I’m committing a brief written response to the internet in the form of this blog post.
If you’re wondering which to use for pain, I hope this clears up some of the questions you have.
What they’re for
Here’s the thumbnail response – ice goes on brand new injuries, and heat goes on stiff muscles. But thumbnails aren’t very detailed or nuanced and the long form version of the thumbnail is.
Ice calms injuries when they’re inflamed and painful. It serves to stop or reduce swelling and numb pain. It’s best for treating superficial injuries.
Heat calms chronic muscle pain. When we have recurring or long-term pain problems, we’re sometimes anticipating pain, which can make us tense and anxious. Heat works to soothe both body and mind, while addressing soreness with comforting warmth.
But heat and ice can work together! By alternating between the two, you get the best of both worlds, it’s said in some circles. While there’s no empirical evidence as to contrasting therapy’s effectiveness, some people swear by alternating between hot and cold.
What they’re not for
When used incorrectly, your body will not be happy with your self-care efforts. When there’s inflammation, applying heat can exacerbate the effect. Ice, conversely, can make stiffness and pain worse.
Your brain can respond to inappropriate application of ice and heat by sensing threat, provoking additional pain. It’s been demonstrated that ice heightens the sense of threat more than heat does.
Muscle pain can be made worse by the application of ice. When you’re experiencing pain which is intense, it’s easy enough to believe you’ve provoked a sprain or strain. But applying ice to injuries like this can make the pain worse. This is especially true of neck and back pain.
Finally, never put heat on a new injury. There’s inflammation afoot and that means there’s already heat which is provoking pain. Adding more heat is obviously not the right way to deal with it.
Ice and heat are temporary self-care fixes which can bring relief, but neither is going to address the underlying problem that caused the injury or the chronic pain.
Heat and ice are stop-gap measures. They’re the triage you can do while waiting to see a doctor about the problem
Which is where I come in!
Back & Body Medical
Back & Body’s award-winning clinical services are now available in New Jersey, giving residents here access to the multi-disciplinarian care everyone in Manhattan is talking about.
We’re a diversified group of clinicians who work as a team, creating tailored care for our patients that delivers exceptional outcomes.
If you’re past the ice/heat stage, you need the attention of medical professionals. Please contact us to schedule an appointment. Let’s get to the bottom of your pain.