There are some common pains we all experience every day. Choosing between heating pads and ice packs to relieve the pain can be tricky. So how do we know which is better? Is heat ideal for back pain? Will ice packs soothe pulled muscles? Here’s how to figure out which treatment will work best for you.
1. Back injury
If you’ve injured your back, a hot bath may sound like the ultimate cure-all. But according to a clinical professor of surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles, California, that will only increase inflammation, making the pain worse. Doctors recommend applying ice to the area for 20 minutes at a time during the first two or three days in order to decrease inflammation and pain.
2. Menstrual cramps
It can be quite confusing to choose between ice packs and heating pads when it comes to menstrual pain. A lot of people recommend heating pads, but according to an ob-gyn here’s no definitive support for using heat on menstrual cramps, but it is recommended. For menstrual cramps, doctors typically recommend heat either from a bath or heating pad to the pelvic area for menstrual pain opposed to iceOne study compared heat to placebo and showed improvement with heat over the placebo. The mechanism is not completely understood, but theories include relaxation of smooth muscle of the uterus and increasing uterine blood flow.
3. Joint pain
As a general rule, it is recommended you heat a joint such as the knee or ankle before exercise, competition, or therapy. The primary objective of warming up is to prepare the tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints for the explosive forces that are applied to these tissues during strenuous activity.
4. Chronic back pain
Ice may be the ideal option over heat for back pain, but Doctors say treatment differs when the pain is chronic. People who suffer from chronic back pain without inflammation can find relief with a warm bath.
5. Sprained ankle
When you sprain your ankle, bleeding and inflammation result, which requires ice, not heat, to limit swelling and constrict the blood vessels. Ankle sprains are acute injuries to the ligaments that provide support and stability to the ankle joint. This manifests as pain and swelling. Ice decreases swelling and inflammation while also providing pain relief by numbing the area.
Arthritis is a health problem which can be treated by alternating heat and ice. The heat promotes blood flow and relaxes the joints while ice can numb the pain as well as reduce swelling. Alternating heat and ice requires some patience as you will need to figure out which combination works best for you.
7. After effects of working out
If you’ve just completed a strenuous workout and are in pain and wondering whether to use heat or ice, use ice on the affected areas to reduce inflammation. Do this right away and limit icing sessions to 20 minutes to avoid causing any irritation to your skin. Heat is not recommended for post-workout pain and muscle soreness as it can increase swelling and make the injury worse. When trying to remember whether to use ice or heat for pulled muscle injuries, keep in mind that heat expands while ice contracts. You want to avoid expanding inflamed muscles.
8. Torn ligament
For ligament tears, Doctors recommend ice, not heat. Typically you should apply ice or submersion in an ice bath for 15 minutes every two to three hours for the first 24 to 36 hours after an injury. Icing helps to diminish blood flow to injured tissue, limiting swelling, inflammation, and pain. Don’t use heat in the initial stages after an injury for fear of increasing the inflammatory response, swelling, and pain.