One of the most common misconceptions when dealing with pain, is at figuring out when to use heat verses ice. Many patients come into the office with a new, very acute pain tell me that they are using heat. PLEASE DON”T!!! For a new pain or a re-exacerbation (re-injury) of an old pain, ALWAYS USE ICE!
The Mechanism: Their is an easy explanation for when to use ice and when to use heat. The reason is simple science. It how ice and heat affect the body differently affect the human body. Heat increased blood flow, therefore, increasing the inflammatory response at the location where the heat was applied. If you are already inflammed (due to an acute injury), you will only increase pain, swelling, and stiffness to the area if you apply heat.
Ice, on the other hand, temporarily decreases blood flow. Decreased blood flow = Decrease Inflammation = Decreased pressure on pain receptors (nociceptors) = Decreased Pain. Therefore using ice on an acute injury will reduce pain and inflammation.
Dr. Misty Funk’s Advice: For the first 3-5 days after a new injury or re-injury of a chronic pain, use ice for 15-20 minutes several times a day to reduce the inflammatory response and pain. After 3-5 days, start experimenting with heat. If you feel the area is more swollen or more painful after the heat, then continue to use ice for another day or two. Heat is best used on chronic pain or chronic muscle soreness.
Simply put, always think ICE for acute pain and HEAT for chronic pain or muscle soreness/tension (pain or tension that is always there).