When Is It Appropriate To Use Ice Or Heat To Treat Pain?

Laurie Sweet answers the question: 'When Should Ice Or Heat Be Used?'

ByABC News
December 24, 2007, 11:58 AM

— -- Question: When Is It Appropriate To Use Ice Or Heat To Treat Pain?

Answer: Two of the simplest treatments that therapists can use to help the patient manage pain are ice therapy and heat therapy. Generally, you'll see these in forms of hot packs or cold packs when you're in the clinic. The rule of thumb with cold is if an area is red, swollen, inflamed, or if it's an acute injury, meaning an injury that just occurred, we want to cool the area down and prevent any inflammation. It's generally a topical anti-inflammatory that we're putting on the patient's skin or body part -- wherever the injury occurred. Heat will generally be used to prepare a body part or a portion of your arm or leg for exercise. It helps in increasing blood flow or circulation, increasing tissue elasticity or flexibility, and it will just help warm up or prepare the body part to accept the exercise or the stretching that the therapist will be doing to the area. You can use heat or cold in conjunction with exercise. So, if a patient just worked out very hard in the gym with a therapist, you can use cold at the end, to help cool down or calm down the area so that way there's no increased irritation or inflammation. You can also use heat just for its soothing effects before and after the exercise, and we can also instruct the patient on how to use hot or cold therapy in the form of ice packs or ice cubes or heating pad at home, so that way they can help with their own pain control while they're outside of the clinic.

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