When Should You Use Heat or Ice For an Injury?

As an occupational therapist, one of the topics I go over quite frequently with my patients is the application of heat or ice in regards to nursing an injury. Now, before we get started I want you to remember that this advice should NEVER take the place of your medical provider(s) as each person, each condition, and each body is going to be different. Instead, this article should provide you with basic knowledge about heat vs ice in hopes that you will explore more into the best path for you and your injury!


As a Blossoming Mommy and Baby Woman, I know you are working hard to care for yourself (and your family!) through mind, body, and soul work. And for that Momma…. YOU ROCK! In addition to caring for your body, it is important to understand how to help your body HEAL if an injury has taken place.

Good nutrition  (psssst…. the #abundantmotherhoodclub recipes will get you started on the right track!), taking it “easy” (i.e. rest and recovery), and  applying heat or ice may very well benefit your body.

So, Momma… Let’s break down this complex issue together!


When should you use heat or ice for an injury?

First, understand that heat and ice both serve different purposes. Ice is primarily used to decrease inflammation, can help to reduce pain, strains, sprains, and reduces swelling. Heat is primarily used to decrease aches and stiffness, spasms, and helps to relax muscles.

After an injury, what should you do?

First decide if you need to seek immediate medical attention. If you have a common sprain or strain, a common metaphor used is R-I-C-E. REST (Rest the body!), ICE (Ice the injured area for no more than 20 minutes. Also, make sure you have some type of barrier *like a towel* between your skin and the icepack so ice is not directly making contact with your skin. COMPRESSION (exactly how it sounds), ELEVATION (Again, exactly how it sounds).

What is ice used for?

  • Generally speaking, ice is used for injuries that may have just occurred in order to help reduce swelling and pain.

  • Medical disclaimer: there are certain conditions in which ice or cold should not be applied. Please speak with your medical doctor in regards to your specific needs.

  • An article by Dr. Mercola states: “Ice works for injuries because it narrows your blood vessels, which helps prevent blood from accumulating at the site of injury, which will add to inflammation and swelling while delaying healing. This is also why elevation is helpful, since it limits blood flow to the area to minimize swelling.” (Source 1)

What is heat used for?

  • Generally speaking, heat is great for muscle stiffness, aches, and spasms.

  • Medical disclaimer: there are certain conditions in which heat should not be applied. Please speak with your medical doctor in regards to your specific needs.

  • The Cleveland Clinic has an excellent infographic educating on the ice vs heat debate HERE!

Ideas for cool/ice application:

Ideas for warm/heat application:

Remember, ladies- you need to listen to YOUR BODY, as we all respond differently to different modalities. Should you have any questions or clarifications, please seek the guidance of your medical provider!

XOXO,

Jen


Resources:

  1. http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2015/08/21/cold-heat-therapy.aspx

  2. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2014/08/should-you-use-ice-or-heat-for-pain-infographic/