Choosing the Right Treatment: Ice vs. Heat

You’re working out like mad trying to lose those holiday pounds and all of your muscles are aching. Soaking for hours in a warm bath sounds great, but is that the right thing to do? You were out for a walk, stepped in a hole, and twisted your ankle and now it’s bruised and swollen. Do you use ice or put a heating pad on it? This is one of the most common questions I receive. It’s also one of the more common things that people do incorrectly. It does make sense; heat on something for a long time makes it feel good. It’s true that ice is not very comfortable when you use it for a while. So heat should be better, right?

As it turns out, ice is universally better for acute injuries and even some chronic ones. Ice serves as a natural anti-inflammatory and functions to constrict the blood vessels, thereby reducing the blood flow to the injured area. Inflammatory factors are carried in the blood. Having less of these present minimizes the swelling, bruising, and pain associated with inflammation. The sooner you apply an ice pack to a sprain or strain, the sooner it can do its job of reducing.

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