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Ice packs and heating pads are commonly used to treat orthopedic injuries, but people are often confused about which one to use. Furthermore, there is often uncertainty about how to use them safely and whether they may cause more harm than good.

Ice Treatment

Ice treatment is most frequently used for acute injuries to lessen swelling, pain, and inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to an injury or infection during which blood vessels and tissues will swell to allow immune cells closer access to the website of the damage.

While crucial to healing, inflammation left uncontrolled may cause extreme pain and disability. If you have undergone a physical injury over the past 48 hours, an ice pack can help minimize swelling, decrease bleeding inside tissues, and alleviate muscle spasms and pain.

Ice treatments may also be used to regularly treat chronic conditions, including overuse injuries in athletes (such as tendinitis, tendinosis, or bursitis). The pack would be applied immediately after physical activity to treat inflammation.

Arthritis, migraine headaches, and trigeminal neuralgia are just some of the other disorders that may benefit from ice application.

The Way to Safely Ice an Injury

Ice packs are commercially available as freezable gel packs. You can also make them with ice cubes in a plastic bag or tea towel. A pack of frozen peas is also a good option.

To safely ice an injury:Never place ice directly on the skin. Always use a fabric barrier such as a skinny bath towel.

  • Maintain the ice pack moving to avoid frostbite. Never keep it in 1 place for more than a couple of minutes.
  • Never ice an injury for more than 15 to 20 minutes. It is better to ice an injury several times a day than all at once.
  • Eliminate the pack if you experience prickly pain or the skin appears bright red or pink.
    Do not use an ice pack on the left shoulder if you have a heart condition.

How to Ice Your Injury the Right Way

Heat Treatment

Heat treatment is used to treat chronic conditions. It helps to relax tissues and stimulates blood flow to the affected joint or muscle. Heat is usually used to treat an overuse injury prior to an action being performed.

Heat can be an effective form of pain relief if muscular strain is the cause. Heating can help relax tissues and loosen stiff joints, making it appropriate for musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis and older muscle strains.

Steamed towels or moist heating pads may intensify the penetration of heat into the muscles. Some people find that that moist heat provides better pain relief than dry heat.

Utilizing Heat for Pain Treatment

How to Treat an Injury With Heat

Heat application can be accomplished using an electric heating pad or even a heated towel removed from the dryer. If using an electric pad, choose one with a temperature control to prevent overheating and burns.

There are even microwaveable bags filled with wheat, rice, or other natural or synthetic components. Use these with caution, however, as they can cause burns if overheated. Wheat bags especially have been known to catch fire.

To utilize heat application safely:

  • Do not use heat treatments after activity.
  • Do not use heat to treat an acute injury.
  • Always use moderate heat. The heat shouldn’t ever cause sweating or discomfort.
  • Do not heat a towel with boiling or scalding water.
  • Never use heat where there is swelling of any kind.
  • Never use heat on cracked or damaged skin.
  • Never use heat for long periods of time or while sleeping.