I'm always asked the question "should I use ice or heat?". Sometimes the answer is easier than others. Generally speaking, ice should be used immediately and for up to 72 hours of an acute injury. This helps to reduce pain and inflammation. Typically, an injury has acute sharp pain, redness or swelling. Ice can be applied for 10-20 minutes and can be repeated 2 or 3 times with a rest period of the same. Never apply ice directly to the skin but rather use a towel or cloth in between. It is even better to dampen a towel with warm water first and apply the ice over top. This makes it more comfortable to apply the ice and the dampness allow for a deeper penetration of the cold.
On the flip side, heat is more often used for chronic, dull, achy pain and for muscle tension. This allows the body to increase circulation and improve healing. Plus it usually feels very good. Heat can be applied for about 20-30 minutes at a time. Sometimes, a contrast of ice and heat is recommended.
One issue to be very careful about is to check your skin every so often for problems due to the application of ice or heat. One thing that is very important is to not keep a heating pad on too high and don't fall asleep on one. This can cause swelling and even worse, burning. This is seen on the example below where one of my patients could not feel the pain from the burn (there is a scar from previous surgery). It happens more than you think.
Just be aware of what's happening and have someone check the area if you are unable. If you are unsure what to use, just give us a call (416) 512-2225 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. - Spinal Decompression Toronto