Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ice or heat? When to use which

Most people know that it is wise to apply one or the other. But which is best for the situation at hand? Ice or heat? And, for how long?

A common soft tissue injury is an ankle sprain. The best choice for this type of injury would be ice. A slush bucket would be ideal. A mixture of water and slush with a temperature reading between 33 and 45 degrees.  The affected ankle would be submerged in the slush bucket for approximately 15 minutes no longer than 20 minutes.
Keeping soft tissue at low temperature longer than 20 minutes will cause tissue death.  For an acute injury, such as an ankle sprain, it is best to treat the area for the first 72 hours with slush or ice 15-20 minutes every hour. The standard treatment for ankle sprain is rest, ice, compression and elevation to keep pain and swelling at a minimal.
Cold therapy in essence leads to decreased blood flow, decreased swelling and decreased pain.  The swelling of tissue causes increase pressure on the nerves which in turns causes pain.
When to use heat therapy.  Heat is the best  choice when treating stiff, tight muscles.  Heat is the preferred choice for back pain. Same time application applies to the use of heat. It is best not to use heat therapy while you sleep as the risk of burn is great.  If possible, place a protective layer between the skin and heat. Where applies, do the same for ice.  If you are a diabetic, care should be taken with areas of decreased sensation because it will be difficult to tell if a negative reaction occurs.
As always, please seek medical attention.
Good health,
Trisha M. Pacenti RN,BSN