When to Use Hot and Cold

When musculoskeletal injuries occur, immediate application and continuation of first aid is vital. Delayed or incorrect first aid will slow the healing process by days, weeks, or even months. Remembering the acronym R.I.C.E. is a great help when joint or muscle first aid is needed. The acronym represents the first letters of rest, ice, compression and elevation.

RESTING an injured area reduces the stress and strain which, in turn, reduces the chance of further injury. When an accident occurs, immediately stop activities which involve using the injured area.

ICE applied to an injured joint or muscle reduces swelling and bleeding by slowing the blood flow to the area.

COMPRESSION, by wrapping or taping the area of injury, reduces swelling and gives extra support to injured tissues. Compression applies primarily to the extremities (arms and legs).

ELEVATION of the injured body part above the level of the heart slows blood flow to the area by forcing the heart to pump “uphill.” Reducing blood flow reduces swelling. Elevation applies primarily to the extremities.

Applying Ice Properly

The first 48-72 hours after injury and/or during acute pain, swelling or spasm, ice gel packs are the first choice of care.

Each application of ice/gel packs should be 20 minutes, with 3-5 applications per day.

Never use ice/gel packs longer than 30 consecutive minutes. Never apply ice if the following conditions are present:

  • Raynauds Disease
  • Rheumatoid or gouty arthritis
  • Frostbite
  • Areas of decreased sensation
  • Severe circulation problems

Ice treatments should be continued if you are experiencing JOINT pain. DO NOT USE HEAT FOR JOINT PAIN.

Applying Heat Properly

Moist heat may be applied 48-72 hours after injury, when pain can be described as MUSCLE soreness or stiffness. DO NOT USE HEAT FOR JOINT PAIN.

Moist heat provides more soothing relief than dry heat. Gel packs, hot towels, hot baths, hot showers, whirlpools, steam saunas, and moist heating pads are examples of heat with moisture.

Each application of moist heat should be 20 minutes, with 3-5 applications per day.

Never use moist heat for longer than 30 consecutive minutes. Never sleep on a heating pad. Heat application has more contraindications than cold application, so please consult your doctor prior to use.

Please consult your doctor of Chiropractic if you are unsure or have further questions.

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