Friday, January 18, 2013

Heat vs. Ice for Sports Injury


Do you know when to use ice and when to use heat on a sports injury? Most athletes know to apply ice to an acute injury, like a sprained ankle, but aren't so sure when to use heat. The following guidelines will help you sort it out.

There are two basic types of athletic injuries: acute and chronic.
  • Acute Pain is of rapid onset and short-lived, or
  • Chronic Pain develops slowly & is persistent and long-lasting.

  • Cold Therapy with Ice
    Cold therapy with ice is the best immediate treatment for acute injuries because it reduces swelling and pain. Ice is a vaso-constrictor (it causes the blood vessels to narrow) and it limits internal bleeding at the injury site. 
    To ice an injury, wrap ice in a thin towel and place it on the affected area for 10 minutes at a time. Allow the skin temperature to return to normal before icing a second or third time. You can ice an acute injury several times a day for up to three days.
    Cold therapy is also helpful in treating some overuse injuries or chronic pain in athletes. An athlete who has chronic knee pain that increases after running may want to ice the injured area after each run to reduce or prevent inflammation.
    The best way to ice an injury is with a high quality ice pack that conforms to the body part being iced. You can also get good results from a bag of frozen peas, an ice massage with water frozen in a paper cup (peel the cup down as the ice melts) or a bag of ice.
    Heat Therapy
    Heat is generally used for chronic injuries or injuries that have no inflammation or swelling. Sore, stiff, nagging muscle or joint pain is ideal for the use of heat therapy. Athletes with chronic pain or injuries may use heat therapy before exercise to increase the elasticity of joint connective tissues and to stimulate blood flow. Heat can also help relax tight muscles. Don't apply heat after exercise. After a workout, ice is the better choice on a chronic injury.
    Because heat increases circulation and raises skin temperature, you should not apply heat to acute injuries or injuries that show signs of inflammation. Safely apply heat to an injury 15 to 20 minutes at a time and use enough layers between your skin and the heating source to prevent burns.
    Moist heat is best, so you could try using a hot wet towel. Never leave heating pads on for more than 20 minutes at a time or while sleeping.
    Because some injuries can be serious, you should see your doctor if your injury does not improve (or gets worse) within 48 hours.

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