Symmetry Blog

Heat V Ice how best to treat my injury

Symmetry Physio - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

One of the most common questions we get asked as Physiotherapists is 'Should I Ice or apply Heat when I get injured?'

Should I Ice or Heat my injury?

In order to answer this question, it is best to understand the body's natural process to repair itself.

Once an injury occurs, the repair process has three phases

  •  The first phase clears the damaged cells

  •  The second brings in the cells to form the repair structure

  •  The third phase finishes the work to give the cells the final structure and strength.

In the case of a muscle tear, the damaged muscle tissue has to be removed, new cells moved in, and then transformed into muscle tissue. Excess swelling and inflammation from damaged tissue inhibits and slows this process.

With an acute injury like a muscles tears or ligament sprain, ice works to keep the swelling down, which allows the injured parts to stay physically close in the repair process, promoting better healing. Heat, on the other hand, encourages blood flow and increases swelling in the acute phase. So, immediately following injury, heat actually harms the healing process.

It is usually advised to ice for two or three days post-injury but this could extend for longer periods depending on the degree of inflammation. A reasonable cycle for icing an injury is 15-20 minutes every couple of hours.

Heat does have a place in chronic injury and after the acute phase of injury - it can relieve pain and relax muscles providing there is no inflammatory process occurring. A simple couple great acronyms to remember with acute injuries are:

RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation to reduce blood flow and inflammation to the injured area and do not HARM - Heat, Alcohol, Run, Massage which will increase bleeding in the tissues.

The Team at Symmetry Physiotherapy

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