It is a beautiful day outside! You are inspired! Putting on your tennis shoes, you go for a walk around the block. The weather is just right, not too hot and not too cold. The sun is out and the sky is clear! But you are so absorbed with observing the sky that you forget to watch where you are going and… You trip over the uneven concrete and twist your ankle. Immediately it swells and changes color. Limping painfully home, you ask yourself: heat or ice?
Heat or Ice?
Quick attention is key to ensuring the swift recovery of a swollen or inflamed area. Many times, a heat pad is favored out of comfort preference; however, this method is best used for tightened muscles or conditions such as arthritis. Heat draws blood to the surface, increasing circulation and actually raising the temperature surrounding the wound, directly interfering with swelling reduction. In lieu of heat packs, experts point to the use of ice/cold therapy when dealing with an acute injury.
When there is an acute injury (such as a sprain or tear in muscle tissue) inflammation is the body’s natural emergency response. It works to limit pain while increasing the blood flow to the injured area. A hot sensation is often linked to this process. If acute, the inflammation will continue to grow to meet the demands of the healing. The use of ice or cold therapy numbs the pain of the wound while drawing the blood away from the surface and permitting the swelling to decrease.
Ice / Cold Therapy
Using ice/cold therapy must be done carefully and there are several options. If a commercial ice pack is not available, a bag filled with ice cubes (or even a frozen bag of vegetables) can serve as a substitute; keep a barrier, either a blanket or towel or other fabric, between the skin and the bag so as to prevent the onset of frostbite from over extended contact. Do not keep the bag on the area for longer than twenty minutes at a time. A tub filled with very cold water can also be used if the ice pack option is not practical.
Not all ice / cold therapy situations will occur in the joints. While joints such as the knees, elbows and ankles are especially prone to accidents, so is the lower back or lumbar region of the spine. Lifting heavy objects and sports injuries are the most common reasons for pulled or strained back muscles although excess weight also contributes. The location of the lumbar means that the legs are not hindered, however, sitting and moving around is increasingly difficult and painful the longer the injury is left uncared for. In cases such as this, ice / cold therapy is recommended to relieve muscle pain for the first forty eight hours (after that time, switching to heat is best for muscle relaxation).
Acute injuries and their results are common. Knowing how to attend to them is key to managing the pain and healing process. It is best to get advice from competent professionals right away to ensure the injury is not more serious than it appears. If your pain continues, contact Dr. Hamilton for further advice.