Should You Apply Ice or Heat Your Injury?

Ice and heating packs work better for different types of injuries.

I’ve seen it happen a million times. One minute you are out on the field, heading towards an amazing winning streak, and the next you pull, strain, or sprain something, and find yourself on the sidelines trying to decide what to do next.

Any athlete will tell you that sports-related injuries are part of the program. No matter how diligent you are, you run the risk of major or minor injuries every time you hit the court or field. Any athlete will also tell you that most of the time these injuries aren’t career-ending, and with a little ‘R and R’, you will be back out there doing what you love in no time. But there are ways to speed up your recovery, using either heat or ice.

READ MORE: Getting an Athlete Through an Injury—Top Five Tips

Heat and ice do very different things for injuries however, so its important to know which one works best in which scenario. Here are a few guidelines.

Apply ice to an injury if:

The injury occurred in the last 48 hours.

You are concerned about swelling (for acute injuries you should probably always be concerned with swelling).

You are concerned about pain (ice will help numb the initial pain, and decrease swelling, which also decreases pain).

Ice is only really beneficial for acute, recent injuries like sprains and strains. It can also help reduce any tissue bleeding, as well as muscle spasms. So the first thing you should do if you hurt yourself on the court or field is ice the injury.

Never leave the ice pack on for more than 30 minutes, and remove it if your injury turns bright pink or red.

Apply heat to an injury if:

You have a chronic injury.

Your muscles around the injury are stiff.

Your injury comes from overuse of your muscles.

Heat treatments are best used to help relax and loosen muscles and tissue, which helps stimulate blood flow to the area. You can treat a chronic injury with heat before you engage in athletics to help prevent it from worsening.

Do NOT use heat on any injury where you are concerned about swelling, as it just dilates blood vessels and brings more blood into the area.

This advice is really only for minor injuries. If you are concerned that your injury may be something a little more serious I urge you to visit a physician and go with their recommendations.

As athletes, the game is an important part of our lives, so we should take every precaution we can to keep our bodies in proper working order, injuries and all.

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