When it's hot and it's cold...

Should I apply heat or ice treatments at home after my injury?

This is always a tricky one, and one that confuses many people: when to apply cold therapeutic treatments and when you should choose heat.

Let's face it - heat is more comfortable and we tend to go for the comfortable option, and apply a hot water bottle to our injury, but this might not be the most appropriate treatment for you.

Applying heat or ice treatment following an injury or when experiencing discomfort in a joint or muscle depends on whether or not there is swelling and inflammation at the site of injury.

Typically in the first 3-7 days after an injury, there will be inflammation present around the injury as the body's natural response to soft tissue damage. This inflammation may also cause pain around the injury site.

Applying ice (in the form of an ice pack, frozen peas, ice bath etc) as part of the treatment may help reduce the feelings of pain, but also help initiate the recovery process – it will help reduce swelling by reducing the blood flow to the area.

After the initial stage of injury, from a week to 6 weeks after the injury both heat and ice treatments can be considered –this decision will be based on whether inflammation is present or not, and taking the advice of a professional. You may be advised to alternate heat and cold by your sports massage therapist or physio. Heat treatments at home most commonly are carried out in the form of heat pads, hot water bottles or hydrotherapy (a warm bath!).

There are contraindications to applying therapeutic heat and ice treatments, as well as possible adverse reactions. It is always best to seek advice from a medical professional if you are in any doubt whatsoever.


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