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‘Hey Mum, do I put ice or heat on it?’

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‘Hey Mum, do I put ice or heat on it?’

Jane Lawler

It’s that time of year when we are all in the thick of the winter sport season. Invariably one of the kids comes off the battlefield limping like a gladiator or warrior princess having injured themselves.
 
Ice packs and heating pads are among the most commonly used treatments in injuries. So, which one is the right one to use for your injury, ice or heat? And how long should the ice or heat treatments last?
 
Read on for information about treatment of injuries with ice packs and heating pads.
 

                      Ice Treatment                        

Ice treatment is most commonly used for acute injuries (injuries that have just happened). If you have had a recent injury (within the last 48 hours) where swelling is a problem, you should be using ice. Ice packs can help minimize swelling around the injury, reduce bleeding into the tissues, and reduce muscle spasm and pain.

Ice packs are often used after injuries like ankle sprains. Applying an ice pack early and often for the first 48 hours will help minimize swelling. The other added benefit of reducing swelling around an injury is to help control the pain and you don’t have to rely on oral anti-inflammatories as much which can have potentially adverse reactions with other medications you may be taking or cause stomach irritation.

Ice treatments may also be used for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries in athletes. In this case, ice the injured area after activity to help control inflammation. Never ice a chronic injury before activity.

You can make ice packs with ice cubes in a plastic bag or a wet tea towel; a pack of frozen peas is also ideal and can go in and out of the freezer as these conform very well to the area and are very cheap.

Never place ice directly on an injury; keep the pack moving to avoid ice burns. Never treat with ice for more than 20-30 minutes, and remove the ice pack immediately if the injury appears bright pink or red.


Heat Treatment
Heat treatments should be used for chronic conditions (injuries that persist for a long time or keep recurring) to help relax and loosen tissues and to stimulate blood flow to the area. Use heat treatments for conditions such as overuse injuries before participating in activities.

Do not use heat treatments after activity, and do not use heat after an acute injury. Never use heat where swelling is involved because swelling is caused by bleeding in the tissue, and heat just draws more blood to the area.

Heating tissues can be accomplished using a heating pad, or even a hot, wet towel. When using heat treatments, be very careful to use a moderate heat for a limited time to avoid burns. Never leave heating pads or towels on for extended periods of time or while sleeping.

Other Precautions to consider in general

Don’t use cold or heat packs:
• over areas of skin that are in poor condition
• over areas of skin with poor sensation to heat or cold
• over areas of the body with known poor circulation
• if you have diabetes or other conditions where blood circulation and sensation may be affected
• in the presence of infection