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Ice vs. Heat: Which to Use When Treating an Injury

ankle and leg painInjuries happen, whether it’s from a sports-related activity or just an unfortunate accident. And when an injury occurs, the first thing many people do is reach for either ice or heat to alleviate pain and swelling. But do you know when to use ice versus heat and when not to use each of them?

Guidelines for Use

The choice between ice and heat depends on the type of injury and severity of inflammation. Both work best when used in addition to care; they’re not a replacement.

Ice for Acute Injuries—in the case of an acute injury, such as a sprained ankle or muscle strain, ice is the best choice to reduce inflammation. Make sure not to apply ice directly to the skin; always place a towel down first. Apply for 20 minutes at a time, taking it off for at least 20 minutes between applications.

Heat for Chronic Injuries—heat is the better choice for chronic or ongoing injuries, such as arthritis or muscle soreness. Use for no more than 20 minutes at a time, and also with a towel.

Alternating Ice and Heat—after 72 hours, when most acute inflammation has subsided, you can start alternating between ice and heat. Remember though to always use ice before heat.

The Right Choice

Knowing when to properly use these modalities can help speed up recovery and reduce the risk of further injury. If you’re unsure how to treat your injury or have persistent pain, contact our practice; we’re here to help!

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