Sports Injuries - Heat or Ice?

Which to Use and When?

Many people suffer muscular injuries from sports and the question that is often asked of me is When should you use heat or cold on an injury? There is generally confusion over which is best to use and when.

Cold treatment

Usually should be applied within 24 hours of an injury of which is fairly obvious such as a fall, or a sprain. The injury should show some signs of inflammation such as pain, redness, swelling and warmth. The best way is to put the ice in a plastic bag and wrap it in a thin towel such as a tea towel applying it directly to the point of injury for about five minutes. You can do this about three times a day but always leave time for the skin to regain its normal temperature before reapplying. The idea behind icing is that the cold reduces pain and swelling allowing the blood vessels to constrict reducing the bleeding at the site of injury.

Important - a bag of frozen peas is fine but don't eat the peas afterwards! You can get gel packs from your local chemist or stores such as Boots.

Heat Therapy

Other than the times mentioned above, heat should be used. So if there is no sign of inflammation or swelling then heat should be the treatment of choice. It is particularly useful for muscular pain, helping to relax tight muscles and to reduce spasming. As a general rule of thumb you should apply heat for around 15-20 minutes and be careful not to burn yourself! Moist heat is perhaps the best so consider using a hot, wet towel or at worst you can obtain gel packs from places such as Boots which can be warmed up in a microwave oven but check the temperature first before applying and read the instructions carefully. It shouldnŐt be so hot that it burns.

Importantly because some injuries can be serious, you should always see your doctor if the injury does not improve or gets worse.

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