Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Ice or Heat?: What's Good for my Injury?
Have you ever had a sports injury but you weren't sure whether to use heat or cold for pain relief? You'd be surprised how often I hear this question at Living Well Medical in NYC, and with the big game coming up this weekend, it seemed like a good idea to talk about something geared more towards sports medicine and injuries.
So first let's start with the essentials for discussing heat or ice: the different types of pain/injuries. In medical lingo, we have two main categories for pain, acute and chronic. Acute pain is anything that comes on suddenly and lasts for shorter amounts of time. Chronic pain takes longer to develop and can tends to have a much longer duration. Although the amount of time ascribed to each term is sort of arbitrary, 3 or 6 months from the onset of pain are pretty normal markers for the term "chronic."
Anyway, in general, cold or ice are best used for acute injuries because they reduce swelling and pain. Cold temperatures are vaso-constrictive, reducing the amount of blood that can enter a give area of the body. This can help stop muscle spasms by reducing nerve sensitivity.
Heat, on the other hand, is more suited to chronic injuries, for the most part, provided there is no swelling or inflammation. By heating a muscle before an exercise, the muscles become more elastic and have increased blood flow. In general, heat tends to relax muscles. It can also be effective in treating muscle spasms. Moist heat like in a hot towel often seems to do the most good.
There are, of course, some exceptions to these rules. For instance, if you have a chronic knee injury that gets worse after you run and becomes inflamed, cold temperatures are what you need to lower the temperature and swelling.
More importantly, if you have an injury that isn't responding to home treatment like ice or heat, be sure to consult a doctor. At Living Well Medical in NYC, we have years of experience helping athletes and sports enthusiasts get back to the things they love to do. Give us a call at 212-645-8151 if you need help.
- Dr. Shoshany