I’m sure we’ve all been confronted with the dilemma of weather to use ice or heat after an injury.
Generally speaking, ice works well after a sudden injury while heat helps to soothe ongoing muscle aches and pains.
Ice works for injuries because it narrows one’s blood vessels, which helps prevent blood from accumulating at the site of the injury, which will add to inflammation while delaying healing. This is also why ELEVATION is helpful, since it limits blood flow to the area thus minimizing swelling.
It is generally suggested that you ice the area for 48 to 72 hours to reduce secondary tissue damage and ease pain.
Ice should be applied for about 20 minutes, once every hour. You should not use ice longer as it could damage your skin or even lead to frostbite. Be sure the ice or gel pack you use can be wrapped around the injured area and even compressed to minimize swelling. I use bags of frozen peas or frozen corn to accomplish this.
You should also protect your skin from direct exposure by placing a cloth or towel between your skin and the ice.
WHEN TO USE HEAT…
For muscle aches and pains, applying a heat pack will help bring blood flow to the area, which promotes healing and sooths pain while increasing flexibility. As blood flow increases, so does the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the area while waste materials are removed.
Heat also works well for joint pain or as a pre-workout warm-up. Hot gel packs or heated water bottles work well and don’t pose any risks of electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure that most electric heating pads do.
Generally speaking, pain that is chronic and does not involve swelling will respond well to heat treatment. As with ice, you should protect your skin by placing a towel or cloth between your skin and the heat pack.
Apply the heat for 15-20 minutes at a time.
Some physical therapists and trainers recommend alternating between heat and cold; 20 minutes of heat immediately followed by 20 minutes of cold.
ANOTHER WAY TO USE HEAT: HYPERTHERMIC CONDITIONING
You should remember this from my “Benefits of Saunas You Probably Don’t Know About”, dated February 21, 2016. Heat–shock proteins (HSP) are used by your cells to counteract potentially harmful stimuli. Whenever a cell is exposed to an unfriendly environment, the DNA separates in certain regions and begins to read the genetic code to produce these stress proteins.
HSPs are actually beneficial; helping to both prevent and repair damaged proteins. Heat-shock proteins are induced by heat, and this is one reason why sauna use is so beneficial.
I suggest that you re-read the sauna post, to put it in today’s injury context.
WHEN TO USE COLD-WATER BATHS…
You might not believe this but some new research suggests that HEAT-SHOCK PROTEINS MAY ALSO BE COLD-INDUCED.
Could this be the reason we expose ourselves to extreme cold immediately after the sauna? I don’t know. The time of this cold exposure is very short; a cold bucket of water, a dip into a very cold pool, or rolling around in the snow.
Brown fat is a heat-generating type of fat that BURNS energy instead of storing it, and this may have important implications when it comes to weight loss. In one study, scientists found that they were able to activate brown fat in adult men by exposing them to cold temperatures.
Our eight presidents, Turgut Özal, pictured above, use to swim or stay in the sea for over an hour in the Presidential Summer Residence in Okluk Koyu. Could it be that he was on to this weight loss scheme?
Regular cold water and ice baths, otherwise known as cold-water immersion or “cryotherapy”, is also a popular technique among amateur and professional athletes, as it is thought to help reduce muscle inflammation and pain after exercise, as well as speed recovery time.
Another thing that brief exposure to cold water might promote is “hardening”. By this we mean that your tolerance to stress and/or disease resulting from exposure to natural stimuli, such as cold water, will increase.
If you decide to give any type of cold-water immersion a try, be sure to listen to your body and work up to more advanced techniques gradually. Here are some options you can try:
- Place an ice pack on your upper back and upper chest for 30 minutes per day, while relaxing in front of the TV, for example
- Drink about 500 ml of ice water each morning
- Take cold showers
- Immerse yourself in ice water up to your waist for 10 minutes, three times a week. (Simply fill your tub with cold water and ice cubes).
Don’t forget that you can use hot and cold therapeutically for muscle and joint pain and injuries. If you have swelling and an acute injury, apply cold using an ice or gel pack (remember my frozen peas or corn suggestion) for 20 minutes at a time. For chronic aches and pains, use a hot gel pack or hot water bottle for 20 minutes for relief.
See you all next week.