Saturday, October 4, 2008

Short and Sweet…Ice or Heat?

Easy Rule #1: In the case of sudden (acute) injury- ICE

The faster you do it, the better off you’ll be. Our bodies are SO good at taking care of themselves. Upon physical insult, an immediate influx of cells to the area carries nutrients and a construction crew of cells. The injured area becomes swollen, maybe hot, often bruised- all manifestations of the increased blood there.

Although we are appreciative of the mobile rebuilding center getting to work, the inflammation that goes along with their efforts can cause more lasting damage around your moving parts (joints). Like gunk in the pipes, this makes free-flowing movement and function hard to recover. Applying ice keeps this process in check, telling the team to “cool off”, as it were.

Ice can be applied with a fancy gel pack, a bag of frozen peas, or even with an ice cube straight on the skin. If using a the gel pack, some cloth layer is necessary, as these are actually colder than plain ice. In every case, it is always important to exercise some caution and not give your skin “freezer burn”. 20 minutes on and 60 minutes off is the rule for an ice pack. If using a cube directly (like an “ice massage”), you can get away with 3-5 minutes until the area feels numb.

*You will never cause harm by properly applying ice when you are not sure what to do*

Easy Rule #2: In the case of longstanding (chronic) muscle tension and discomfort- HEAT

In just the same way that an injury causes an increased blood supply, therefore creating heat…applying external heat inversely draws blood to the area, to bathe the taut tissues with happy cells, allowing them some release. A hot pack, shower, sauna or bath (as we well know) promotes physical and psychological relaxation.

20 minutes is also a good amount of time for the hot pack. This can be an electric pad, a bag or bottle filled with hot water or a satchel of rice from the microwave. If it is electric, make sure it has an auto-turn-off function before taking it to bed with you. And in general, do not place your body on top of the heat, rather it on top of you, to avoid cooking your precious skin.

But don’t be led astray and use heat at the wrong time! Remember this on your way back to the ski chalet on a cold day AFTER you pulled your back or twisted your knee hucking that big cliff…this is NOT the time to hop in the hot tub. I am so sorry, but you can curse my name and thank me later. Adding heat to an area undergoing inflammation digs you into an even deeper hole.

*You can worsen a new injury by using heat too soon*

I hope this is helpful to you. If you are ever unsure which side of the fence you are one- use ICE. Or, shoot me an email and I’ll help sort you out (but use ice until you hear back from me).