Heat pack or Icepack… which should it be? Although the scientific evidence for the use of ice/heat therapy is yet to be proven, we know from personal and clinical experience that ice/heat therapy play a vital role in the home management of acute and chronic pain conditions. But when to use which? That is the question!
Heat and ice are the two most common types of passive, non-invasive and non-addictive therapies. Heat and cold can be used alternatively or individually. Hot and cold agents should always be used with caution. It is a good idea to seek the advice of a healthcare professional prior to use.
For acute pain (pain that has come on recently), treat with a cold/ ice pack. As soon as possible following trauma, apply an icepack.
Hot or cold?
Cold therapy produces vasoconstriction. This means that the diameter of the blood vessels in the area become smaller, allowing less blood to flow to the target tissues. This slows circulation, which in turn reduces inflammation, reduces swelling, eases muscle spasm and decreases pain (by slowing the nerve impulses to the injured area).
Superficial cold is available in many forms, including a variety of commercial cold packs, ice cubes, iced towels/compresses, a bag of frozen peas and forms of hydrotherapy. Cold or ice should never be applied directly to the skin. A barrier, such as a towel, should be placed between the cold agent and the skin’s surface to prevent skin and nerve damage. Punctured commercial cold packs should be immediately discarded, as the chemical agent/gel will burn skin.
For chronic pain (pain that has been present for a few days), treat with a heat pack. Once the acute pain, swelling and muscle spasms subside, you can apply heat.
Heat therapy induces vasodilation. This means that the diameter of the blood vessels in the area become bigger, allowing more blood to flow to the target tissues. Increased blood flow delivers needed oxygen and nutrients and removes cell wastes. The warmth decreases muscle spasm, relaxes tense muscles, relieves pain and can increase range of motion.
Superficial heat is available in many forms, including hot and moist compresses, heating pads, hydrotherapy and commercial chemical/gel packs. Hot packs in any form should always be wrapped in a towel to prevent burns. Punctured commercial hot packs should be immediately discarded, as the chemical agent/gel will burn skin.
How long do I keep the heatpack or coldpack on?
No longer then 5-10 minutes per session. The heatpack or coldpack can be re-applied every couple of hours initially and then less frequently as the painful condition improves.