Ever Wondered Whether to use Cold or Heat?
Patients often ask me whether it is best to use heat or cold for injuries and pain.
Immediately following and injury and for the first 2-3 days, applying cold is best. Cold application constricts blood vessels, which decreases swelling and blood accumulation at the injury site. It is the swelling and inflammation that causes the pain and slows down healing.
Applying and ice pack or gel pack 20 minutes on, then 20 minutes off, approximately three to four times per day goes a long way in keeping down discomfort and swelling. It is also important to allow the skin a chance to recover after application to prevent damage to the skin or frostbite.
A heating pad is best used for muscular aches and pains, beyond the initial 2-3 days. Heat will bring more blood flow to the area, which will then aid in healing. Heat is also great to apply prior to physical activity to loosen tense or sore areas. Remember to use intermittently as well and do not sleep with heating pad on, as this may cause burns to the skin.
It is good to know that something as simple as an ice pack or heating pad can assist with our discomfort.
Dr. Shim’s opinion in this blog is based on over 20 years as an Orthopedic surgeon.