We hear a lot about applying ice and heat to injuries. Both have pain-reducing qualities, but which is better for chronic pain? As it turns out, it just depends on the type of injury you have.
When should you use ice?
Researchers have found that ice is better for the following:
- Sports injuries: When it comes to torn muscles and other sports-related injuries, ice is the winner. Why? Because ice is better for inflammation and swelling. In fact, heat can make inflammation worse.
- Headaches: Cold wins again for headaches. If you have a headache, try a cold mask or cold wrap over your forehead, eyes and temples. It can help to soothe throbbing pain.
- Gout: Patients say ice is better for pain that stems from gout.
When should you use heat?
Heat is better for the following:
- Arthritis: Arthritis patients tell doctors that heat helps their chronic pain more than ice.
- Long-term injuries: Injuries that will linger more than six weeks generally feel better with heat than with ice.
- Stiff neck or sore back: You can try heat for a stiff neck or recurring sore muscles.
How do I apply ice and heat?
There are lots of ways to use ice and heat to relieve your pain. Here are some of the methods:
- Ice packs: Frozen vegetables, ice cubes in a plastic bag or ice pack.
- Ice massage: Freeze some water in a plastic cup, peel back the top, and massage the tender area until it turns numb. This is a better method for targeting smaller pain areas that are harder to reach.
- Cold masks: These are what you use for headaches. You can find them at the drugstore, or just use a really cold washcloth or rag to place over your forehead and temples.
- Moist heat: Taking a bath or hot shower, or sitting in a hot tub or jacuzzi with warm water – not too hot and not above 100 degrees.
- Heat wraps: You can buy a heat wrap at the drugstore and wear it around your neck as if it were a scarf. This is good for when you’re at the office, in your car or traveling on a plane.
- Heating pads: These will produce dry heat. Don’t wear heating pads for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. Remove promptly if it feels like it’s burning your skin.
What did we learn? Ice is generally better for “fresh” injuries, while heat is better for more chronic pain. If you or someone you know is suffering from chronic pain, contact Louisiana Pain Specialists today for a consultation.