One of the most common questions I hear in my practice is "should I use ice or heat?". My response is usually "When in doubt...ice.". But given the opportunity to examine the type of injury can give a specific guideline to follow. Injuries/pain generally fall into two categories, acute or chronic. An acute injury is a new injury or condition that you have recently acquired within the past several days (like a new ankle sprain or a fall) and a chronic injury is usually a condition that has been slowly developing overtime for several months (think overuse/ repetitive injury/osteoarthritis). For an acute injury you should use ice as soon as possible for 10-15 minutes 3-5 times per day. Wrap your ice pack with a thin towel and avoid putting it directly on your skin. An exception can be made for ice massage technique. Also be sure your skin warms back up before applying the ice again.
For a chronic injury with no swelling, heat can safely be used. For aching, sore muscles heat goes a long way. I tell my patients that one of the best times to stretch is after using heat. Heat can also be used for 10-15 minutes reapplied several times a day if needed. Again, let the skin return to normal temperature before heating again. People with chronic conditions can have acute episodic flare ups where they have new swelling which should be iced. An example would be an increase in arthritic knee pain due to too much activity (i.e. running, working in yard...xbox kinect).
In general I leave my patients with the following recommendations...for any new pain try ice initially for the first few days and once the sharp pain is about 50 percent better you can then use heat. If after a few days of conservative treatment consisting of ice, stretching and rest the pain is not getting any better, you may want to follow up with your chiropractor or other doctor. Diabetics should not apply ice to their extremities. If you have any questions regarding the treatment of acute and chronic injuries or if you are looking for a chiropractor in Alexandria, Ky. please feel free to call our office at 859-635-6666.