To ice or not to ice?
“To ice or not to ice?…that is the question” As a qualiﬁed Personal Trainer and Sports Therapist with StayFit here in Abu Dhabi, I often get asked about how to treat sports injuries and the most common query is knowing whether to apply ice or heat to an injury, when and how to apply it.
Therapeutic icing and heating (cryotherapy and thermo-therapy) are easy and safe self-treatment options for many common painful problems.
What ice and heat are for… As a general rule, ice is for fresh injuries and heat is for stiﬀ aching muscles (but of course there are exceptions to the rule but for the purpose of this article we will keep it simple!)
Ice is for injuries - ice and cold packs can relieve pain, swelling and inﬂammation from superﬁcial soft tissue (muscular) injuries. So, apply ice to freshly pulled muscles that are red, hot and swollen to reduce pain.
Knowing how to apply ice and how often is also important. Apply an ice or a cold pack to the injured or sore are at least 3 times a day for as long as you have pain, swelling and inﬂammation. For the ﬁrst 72 hours, ice for 10 minutes, once an hour. After that, use ice for 15-20 minutes 3 times per day. Ice can be beneﬁcial after prolonged or vigorous activity. That is why many elite athletes and sports men and women will often subjunctive themselves to ice baths after hard training sessions or competition.
At home you can use commercially bought ice gel packs or use a frozen ice towel (simply place a folded damp towel in a plastic bag and freeze for 15 minutes) or a bag of frozen peas which are great for molding around your limbs or if you are brave enough a freezing cold bath!
Tip: keep a designated bag of frozen veg, label it and separate from your other veg as I don't think frequent freezing and defrosting will be good for consumption! Always keep a cloth between the ice pack and your skin, and press ﬁrmly against all the curves of the aﬀected area. Do not apply ice for more than 20 minutes at a time and never fall asleep with the ice on your skin.
Do not apply ice if you are already feeling cold or shivering.
Heat is for muscle aches and stiﬀness - chronic pain and stress can be soothed by applying heat especially in the low back and neck areas as this will ease stiﬀness and tension in the joints and increase mobility in those areas. A covered hot water bottle or a speciﬁcally designed ‘hot bean bag’ which you pop into the microwave (always follow the manufacturers instructions) or even a warm soothing bath. Never use anything that is too hot to handle! There is no speciﬁc time limit for application, you will just know when you feel better and more mobile. Do not apply heat to an injury that is red, hot and inﬂamed as this will cause it to get worse!
N.B: if your attempts to apply ice or heat are not alleviating your injuries after a few days seek professional help from your medical doctor, physiotherapist or Sports Therapist.