After an injury, it is recommended that you do some simple things to help self-manage your condition. Usually ice or heat are used at various points after you suffer a sprain, strain, or other injury. But what does ice and heat do, and when should you use it after injury?
Managing the Inflammatory Process
After you body has been injured, it must go through the inflammatory process to heal. The hallmarks of inflammation are:
This process of tissue healing is normal and natural, but there are a few things you can do to help control the process. Using ice and heat are two of those things you can do to help self-treat your injury.
What Does Ice Do?
When ice is applied to the body, it causes a phenomenon called vasoconstriction. This means that it decreases the diameter of micro-capillaries and slows the flow of blood. During the initial phase of healing, there is an increase in circulation, and applying ice decreases the amount of blood flowing to your injured tissues.
When to Use Ice
Immediately after an injury, ice should be applied to the body. Generally speaking, ice should be used for the first 24 to 48 hours after injury. The R.I.C.E. protocol is a helpful acronym to remember for acute injuries. R.I.C.E. stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
The ice helps to decrease blood flow to the injured area which helps to limit the amount of swelling around the injury site. By decreasing the swelling, you can help maintain a bit of mobility in your injured tissues which is thought to help speed the inflammatory process and help you return to normal more quickly.
Ice can also help to slow nerve conduction. This can help lessen the pain that you are feeling in the immediate time after your injury occurred.
What Does Heat Do?
Heat applied to the body causes vasodilation, or an opening up of micro-capillaries. This helps to increase blood flow to the tissues that are heated. An increase in blood flow helps to bring oxygen and other healing cells to the injury site.
When to Use Heat
Heat should be applied to your injury site about two days after your injury occurred. By doing this, you can start to increase circulation to the injured tissues and bring in oxygen and fresh cells that can help the healing process.
Heat can also help to soothe sore, painful muscles and tendons around your injury site. This can help to make your tissues more extensible which can improve mobility in the days and weeks after your injury.
What About Chronic Conditions?
If you have a chronic condition like arthritis, it can be confusing to decide to use ice or heat. You may feel benefits of using heat to help improve mobility, but ice can also help during times of increased tissue swelling and pain.
In general, chronic conditions respond well to the application of heat. If you have an acute painful period or notice increased tissue swelling to your chronic injury, a few days of ice is recommended to get things under control again.
Using ice and heat to self-manage an injury is a great first step to treatment. Knowing what ice and heat do to affect the inflammatory process can help you gain control of your situation, and applying ice and heat at the right time can ensure that you quickly and safely manage your injury.
For safety, be sure to check in with your doctor or other healthcare provider after an injury to ensure that proper treatment is initiated and carried out for your specific condition.