The age long debate: Ice versus Heat
Ice & Education
Since qualifying not long ago (June 2016), I found myself really pushing the ice versus heat debate and encouraging patients to have a more active approach to their lifestyle. Moving about more and improving posture are two key areas. This however is much easier said than done!
I have found the majority of patients are clued up on heat as a form of therapy but not ice. Ice is absolutely fabulous to help with inflammation. Why inflammation? Inflammation is the body’s natural ability to heal and is a part of tissue repair. In the famous words of my esteemed tutor Greg Barker (which would never leave me as a very nervous first year) ‘calor, dolor, rubor and tumor’. These are the cardinal signs of inflammation; heat, pain, redness and swelling. Little did I know these four words would become part of the fundamentals I would base my treatment upon (and use as a mantra!).
The application of either cold or heat must be used for an appropriate time to avoid damage to the skin itself. In practice, I recommend a policy of maximum 10 minutes application. Fully cover the ice or heat pack with a damp cloth. If you feel you need to use the application again, wait for a further 10 minutes before a repeated application. Ice and heat are an inexpensive way to treat the body and aid healing.
Alex tends to recommend shorter applications of one minute with ice on, one minute off, repeated five or six times. The effects are broadly the same and slightly different approaches can work for different people.
Ice is almost always better for inflammation as it facilitates vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels). This in turn reduces fluid congestion and thus eases pain. Heat facilitates vasoconstriction (dilation of blood vessels), increasing flow of lymph and nutrients. Heat is more beneficial for stiff muscles rather than inflammation as adding heat to an already inflamed area (which itself is heat) may have a detrimental effect.
I have found this small snippet of information very beneficial for patients and their understanding of the ice versus heat debate. Remember, inflammation is not a bad thing but instead is a vital part of healing and simply needs to be controlled rather than suppressed! Talking of which we do stock ice / heat packs at the clinic for the fabulous price of £2. Ask in clinic for more details.