Whether you injured yourself or just suffer from daily joint pain, ice or heat can go a long way in offering you relief. On the other hand, using ice or heat incorrectly can actually delay healing and worsen your joint. That is why it’s so important to know how and when to use either treatment appropriately.
When to use ice for painful joints and injuries
Ice is useful to numb pain and restrict blood flow, which can contribute to swelling, reduce bruising, and reduce inflammation. Ice is best used for acute injuries and is recommended for problems occurring less than six weeks prior.
It’s recommended for conditions like a gout flare-up, some muscle strains like those in the back, calves, thighs, or back, and for tendinitis in the elbow, shoulder, knee, wrist, and heel.
Ice is also the first go-to after a sports injury because heat will promote inflammation, delaying healing time.
Ice can also be used for migraines when wrapped around the forehead and temples, but heat can also be used for headaches when put around the neck to reduce muscle spasms.
When to use heat for painful joints and injuries
Heat increases blood flow, which is useful for relaxing muscles along with reducing stiffness and inflammation. Heat is recommended for arthritis pain, headaches, sprains, and tendinosis, which is chronic stiffness. Heat can be used for injuries and pain lasting over six weeks and is a great way to promote relaxation of muscles.
Different ways to apply heat and ice
When it comes to treating your pain or injury, there are different methods you can use to apply heat or ice properly and effectively. Ice packs can be purchased or you can simply use some frozen vegetables or fruits. You can perform an ice massage by freezing water in a Dixie cup, peeling back the top, and applying the ice to the specific area. This is useful for awkward areas where an ice pack may not reach properly.
Cold masks can also be purchased at your local drug store and you simply apply it to your face. You can make your own cold mask by soaking a towel in ice water.
Moist heat can be an effective therapy too. Taking a hot shower or bath, or getting in a hot tub or whirlpool can help. Heat wraps can be purchased like cold packs, or you can microwave a towel or put it in the dryer for a bit. Lastly, heating pads are useful but often need to be plugged in.
It’s important to note that you should never apply ice or heat directly on an injury as you run the risk of further injury such as burns. If at any moment the heat feels too strong or the ice too cold, make appropriate adjustments.
Related: Best exercises to relieve joint pain