What should I use? Ice or Heat?

This is probably one of the most asked questions by our patients. The answer depends on whether there is inflammation in the tissues or not.

When to use Heat

Heat helps the blood flow through the muscles and loosens them up to a certain degree, so if you’re just stiff and tight, then applying heat to the area and doing some stretches can help ease it. If there are tight joints present as well as tight muscle, then treatment may also be required to restore their normal function. However, most episodes of back pain and indeed, most injuries and strains are accompanied by inflammation.

Injuries and Inflammation

Whether pain is brought on by an impact injury or fall, or a strain or through overuse, your body reacts to this “injury” by sending more white blood cells to the site to fight the problem. This means that the tissue is getting less oxygen and nutrients, and waste products aren’t being carried away as efficiently. Nerve endings are triggered which is interpreted by the brain as pain. Signals are then sent back and muscles contract to protect the injured area, leading to spasm, less blood flow to remove the waste products/chemicals that are a result of inflammation and injury, more pain, more spasm, and so the cycle continues.

Person using ice pack to relieve pain and reduce inflammation

When to use Ice

Ice application slows the inflammation and swelling that occurs after injury and so helps reduce the pain. It ‘numbs’ sore tissues (providing pain relief similar to a local anesthetic), and slows the nerve impulses in the area, which interrupts the pain-spasm reaction between the nerves. This of course reduces muscle tightness and allows the injured area to relax. Ice also decreases tissue damage and promotes tissue healing.

If the tissues in the area are tender to touch and feel bruised, then they will be inflamed and require ice/cold gel pack. Sometimes alternating ice and heat is useful, but if in doubt always get checked out by an expert and get the correct advice.

For Further Guidance

Remember, the team at b2 clinics are here to help and want you to receive a fast and smooth recovery from any injuries. If you have any questions regarding using heat or ice for an injury, aches, or pains please get in touch with our reception team who will refer your question to one of our practitioners.

Keep moving, move well, and recover with b2!

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