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Ice or Heat

When to Heat vs Ice

After an injury, such as throwing your back out from shoveling snow, the first thing one wants to do is lie on a heating pad. But that’s not always the right first step. Both ice and heat provide effective relief, but how do you know which one to use first?

Of course, heat feels a lot more comfortable then applying ice, but in order to heal quicker, it’s important to know when to use ice and heat. Ice is used to treat “fresh” injuries whereas heat is used to treat muscles, spasms and chronic pain.

Ice is to be applied 24-48 hours after the injury occurs because it can reduce inflammation and swelling along with numbing the pain temporarily. Do not apply ice directly to your skin as it can give you ice burns.

After the worst of the pain has passed and the inflammation and swelling goes down, then it’s ok to switch to heat. Heat will help blood flow to the injured muscles and it decreases stiffness in the affected area. Again, just like ice, avoid applying heat directly to the skin and use a towel to prevent any burns.

If you have chronic pain, whether it’s back pain (bulging or herniated discs), cervicalgia (neck pain) or headaches, it’s up to you which you prefer to use. If ice is more beneficial then heat, that’s fine. Just be sure you know which one works best for you.

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