Injuries to joints and soft tissue commonly occur in contact sports, auto accidents and around the home or workplace. Icing has traditionally been used to treat such injuries, and is an inexpensive, effective therapy for reducing pain and swelling due to inflammation. The goal is vasoconstriction, to reduce the amount of fluid and the biochemical substances contained in it, that are responsible for irritating the tissue and nerves. Icing is primarily an analgesic — a pain-reliever — and not an actual treatment. That is, it doesn’t “fix” anything. The question of whether ice promotes or impedes healing is mostly irrelevant to the value of ice for temporary pain control. It is not meant as a long-term.
Since applying ice to an injury has been shown to reduce pain, it is acceptable to cool an injured area for short periods soon after the injury occurs. You could apply the ice for up to 10 minutes, remove it for 20 minutes, and repeat the 10 minute application once or twice. You may do this a couple times a day as needed. 10 minute ice baths for ankles, hands, elbows ect. is very effective.
Most folks will agree that the application of heat feels better than freezing ice on the skin, however, it must be used under the right conditions, as applying heat to an irritated inflamed injury can make matters worse. Heat will have the opposite effect on the blood vessels than icing. Vasodilation is the goal here to bring more oxygen and nutrients to the area while removing tissue debris and irritating biochemicals. When appropriate, moist heat is always more effective than dry heat. Dry heating pads may feel good but have little therapeutic value. You can purchase a moist heating pad or fold up a towel, wet it and place in a plastic bag. Place it in the microwave and heat it up for a couple minutes. Carefully remove towel from plastic bag with tongs, cover it with an additional dry towel to prevent burning yourself, and place over the area for 20 minutes. Three times a day is recommended for most muscular injuries. When in doubt as to whether to use ice or heat, icing is the safer option or better yet, pick up the phone or let’s have an online text conversation, and let us help you in your recovery.
In addition, elevating the injury will help reduce edema (swelling). A compression bandage may also be applied to reduce edema and provide support to the injury. Please call us for recommended use for your specific injury. If the pain or swelling does not resolve in a couple days, please call us! Your injury will require a thorough evaluation as early intervention and treatment always offers a better outcome than the “wait and see” approach.
4300 Tradewinds Drive, Suite 300, Channel Islands, CA 93036 | (805) 702-2500