As anyone preparing for an athletic event or just getting into shape knows, an injury can be incredibly frustrating. When a sports injury does occur, knowing the appropriate way to respond is critical. One of the most basic but important things to know is the proper way to approach icing and heating the area.
Chiropractor Dr. Roger P. Smith describes his perspective toward heating or cooling damaged tissue simply: “As a healthcare provider, I suggest icing an acute injury and heating a chronic injury.”
Dr. Smith notes that many Americans aren’t sure of the distinction between acute and chronic, so they just use whichever of the two delivers the most immediate pain relief. That’s not the best way to approach delivering therapeutic value to the body, though. Supporting your natural recovery mechanisms by applying ice and heat correctly will reduce the length of your rehabilitation.
Ice as physical therapy
Ice works by narrowing the blood vessels, delivering less fresh blood to the injured part of your body. By lowering the temperature of the muscle, constriction gradually pushes blood away from the area as well. In turn, bruising is minimized, inflammation is suppressed, and pain relief is achieved.
Your body continues to benefit when you stop icing. As the site of injury gets warmer, fresh blood flows in, cueing growth factors and washing away any extraneous matter generated when the body was damaged.
Be careful with ice: you only want to use it 10 minutes per hour, maximum. Although you don’t want to be applying ice constantly, you do want to do it repeatedly throughout the day.
“The more often the cycle is allowed to transition,” Dr. Smith argues, “the faster one’s body can recover from an acute muscle injury (injury having severe onset and a short course).”
Moist heat as physical therapy
Moist heat can be powerful for chronic injuries, ones that you have experienced for an extended period of time. When you introduce moist heat to the damaged part of your body, your blood vessels widen, enhancing rather than restricting the circulation.
Generally, one of the signs that an injury has become chronic is that ischemia (absence of blood) is present. By counteracting the ischemia, this treatment speeds up healing.
Be careful when you heat as well: never exceed 20 minutes of application per hour.
Applying expertise to your sports injury
As indicated above, you can achieve the most expeditious recovery from an injury with the right knowledge. Icing and heating are of course just two tactics for alleviation of pain and restoration of physical function.
At Advanced Wellness & Rehab we deal with sports injuries every day. Find out how we can improve your activity level and quality of life with our New Patient Offer for sports injury treatment.