Before you can determine if you should use ice or heat, determine if the injury is acute or chronic. An acute injury is defined as specific, sharp pain caused by a traumatic event which causes injury - such as a sprain. Many of us have twisted an ankle during physical activity. This would be considered acute injuries where immediate inflammation occurs. Inflammation is the body's natural response to an injury. The injury gets red, hot to the touch, and swollen because the body - in its infinite wisdom - is sending more blood to heal the injured area. Inflammation also reduces the joints range of motion which help prevent additional trauma.In cases of acute injury, immediately apply ice. Applying ice reduces the pain in an area by numbing it while also reducing swelling and bleeding in the soft tissues. The sooner ice is applied the less difficult it will be to get the swelling to reduce around the joint, and the sooner the injured person can return to normal activities.
A chronic injury is defined as an injury that develops slowly, is persistent, and long-lasting with mild to low grade pain. Chronic injuries are often nagging pains that can be overlooked or ignored for a period of time.When dealing with a chronic injury you want to apply heat, except after exercise. After exercise, if a chronic injury feels worse then apply ice to help reduce pain and inflammation. The use of heat is soothing to the muscles, increases elasticity to the connective tissues and stimulates blood flow. However, in some cases, ice works better in long term treatment of a chronic injury due to extreme inflammation. Many chronic injuries are a result of overuse and repetitive strain. It’s easy to ignore these small pains but if you do they could eventually grow into a larger problem and take much longer to heal. In order to avoid this, pay attention to your body. If you feel a dull aching pain, don’t ignore it. Take the necessary time to administer some heat to the area. A warm bath, heat cream, or sitting with a heating pad on the area may help. If you have a nagging injury, do not ignore it!