Put an icepack on it! Put a heat pack on it! Everyone is always full of advice on the best remedy when we have injuries or aches and pains. So, what is best – hot or cold? The answer is – it depends…
Depends on what, you may well ask. It depends on the pain.
When to use Cold
Cold packs should be used on new and acute injuries.
When a new injury occurs, the body sends blood to that region – a muscle for instance – in order to facilitate healing. This causes inflammation and – if you feel the area you may notice this – heat, from the increased blood flow. A cold pack will reduce the inflammation, pain and heat.
The best application of a cold pack is to place the pack – you can buy soft gel cold packs, or a packet of frozen peas/corn will do just as well – inside a pillowcase, or wrap it in a tea-towel. Apply to the affected area for about 10 minutes every hour for up to 2-3 days, depending on the severity of the injury.
A handy acronym if ice is what you need is RICER – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, Repeat.
When to use Heat
Heat packs are most effective on chronic conditions and old injuries, particularly where stiffness or arthritis are involved. The heat will warm and relax the muscles and increase blood flow, making them less rigid and thereby reducing stiffness.
When muscle stiffness is caused by stress or anxiety – such as neck stiffness often is – heat can have a soothing effect on the nervous system.
Heat can be applied via a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, a wheat-bag heated in the microwave or more gently via a towel taken straight from the hot setting on the dryer. Heat can also be generated by the application of a heat rub containing menthol.
Whether it’s heat or cold you need, the team at our Baulkham Hills clinic can help with advice and treatment that will reduce the severity and length of your injury.