When to use Heat
Heat is a good choice for chronic pain. Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than the expected time frame for healing. Chronic pain may be associated with joint stiffness, muscle aches and spasm. It may be the result of an acute injury which has not healed properly, or as a result of an overuse injury.
Heat therapy works by increasing circulation to the area, drawing extra nutrients and oxygen to assist in the healing process.
How to apply Heat
Heat may be applied in many forms. Moist heat is generally most desirable. A microwave hot pack is ideal. Allow 20 minutes application for the heat to penetrate.
- Never use heat on an acute injury in the first 72 hours
- Ensure the hot pack is wrapped in an appropriate amount of toweling to prevent burns to the skin
- Make sure that a small glass of water is placed in the microwave at the same time as the hot pack to ensure the air stays moist
- Avoid using on areas of skin where there is a lack of sensation as the risk of burning is increased
When to use Ice
Ice is always the most appropriate choice for an acute injury. An acute injury is one which occurs suddenly and often traumatically, possibly the result of an impact or fall. Acute injuries will usually cause pain, tenderness, swelling and inflammation.
The use of ice in the first 48-72 hours following an injury will limit internal bleeding at the injured site and reduce pain and inflammation.
Ice therapy may also be helpful in treating some chronic conditions, for example a sports player with a chronic ankle injury may wish to ice his ankle following a game to reduce inflammation.
How to apply Ice
Ice should be used for 10–15 minutes every 2 hours and then removed to allow the skin or affected area to return to a normal temperature before it is reapplied. Ice therapy should be continued for the first 48-72 hours.
- Do not allow the ice to remain on the skin for more than 20 minutes
- Always wrap the ice in a thin towel to prevent ice burn
- Avoid using on areas of skin where there is a lack of sensation or poor circulation as the risk of burning is increased
- Care must be taken particularly with the use of ice on the elderly, young children and people with diabetes