Ice packs and heat pads are among the most commonly used treatments in orthopedics. So which one is the right one to use for your injury, ice or heat? And how long should the ice or heat treatments last? Read on for information about treatment of injuries with ice packs and heating pads.

Ice Treatment
Ice treatment is most commonly used for acute injuries. If you have a recent injury (within the last 48 hours) where swelling is a problem, you should be using ice treatment. Ice packs can help minimize swelling around the injury. Putting an ice pack on for 10 minutes, then off, then re-applying helps to “pump” the waste products from injury out of the tissue allowing it to be replaced with new blood and nutrients to help the tissue heal more effectively.

Ice packs are often used after injuries such as an ankle sprain have occurred. Applying an ice pack early and often for the first 48 hours will help minimize swelling. Decreasing swelling around an injury will help to control the pain.

Ice treatments may also be used for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries in athletes . In this case, ice the injured area after activity to help control inflammation. Never ice a chronic injury before activity.

Heat Treatment
Heat treatments should be used for chronic conditions to help relax and loosen tissues, and to stimulate blood flow to the area. Use heat treatments for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries, before participating in activities.
Do not use heat treatments after activity, and do not use heat after an acute injury. Heating tissues can be accomplished using a hot/cold pack or a hot water bottle with a moist towel. When using heat treatments, be very careful to use a moderate heat for a limited time to avoid burns. Never leave heating pads or towels on for extended periods of time, or while sleeping.

Contrast Therapy
Likely the best scenario is to use the advantages of both treatments simultaneously. By managing inflammation with ice and tightness with heat, you’re allowing the body to gain the most impact. I rarely recommend patients use heat alone and always to alternate ice and heat during the same treatment.

How to Ice.

Apply an ice pack, bag of peas, or simply a bag of ice to the effected area for no more than ten minutes. After ten minutes, the tissue is cold enough and before long the tissue may begin to freeze causing the body to rush blood to the area to warm it. Rest for 10 minutes. Re-apply for 10 minutes. Continue this process for 1 hour.

How to heat.

Use a hot/cold pack or a hot water bottle. Moisten a towel or facecloth to put in between the pack and your skin. Apply for 5 to 10 minutes. Apply for no more than 1 hour in total.

How to use Contrast Therapy

Always begin by icing an area first for 10 minutes as described above. Then apply the heat as described above with one exception…. use the heat for only 5 minutes this time. Follow the heat with 5 minutes of stretching, then repeat. Continue alternating ice, heat and stretch for one hour.

If you have further questions about this or other topics please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d be happy to answer your questions.

Dr Thompson


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