Injury Heat Versus Ice? What is the Best One to Use?

What is the Best Way to Treat an Injury or Joint Pain: Heat Versus Ice?

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What is the best way to treat and injury or joint pain: heat versus ice? Ice versus heat is a common question I get asked as an orthopaedic surgeon on a a regular basis injuries that produce swelling are best treated with ice. Arthritis flare ups are best treated with heat. Ice can actually make an arthritic joint hurt more. The cold from the ice will cause the blood vessels to constrict. Therefore it will slow the inflammatory process down right after an injury occurs.

How Long Should the Ice Be Applied ?

There is a myth that ice should only be left on for 20 minutes at a time. Ice can be left on for hours. In other words, the longer it is on the better it will work. The only caution is make sure the ice does not have direct contact with the skin. Because of this,  it can in extreme cases , cause frost bite.

What is the Best Way to Keep Ice on an Injuried Area?

The best way to apply ice to an injured joint is with a motorized ice machine. There are different models on the market The ice machine is basically a ice cooler that plugs into the wall. First of all, the ice cooler plugs into the wall, the motor pushes the ice cold water into a rubber tube that attaches to a neoprene water proof wrap. The wrap is placed around the joint. Typically insurance companies will not over the cost of the unit. I highly recommend the ice machines to my patients that have had surgery. The ice machines can give you 9 hours of constant cold therapy. They can help reduce post operative pain medical use.

However, if you prefer not to spend the money on a motorized ice machine there are other options. My favor is a   ziplock bag with ice and water. The water will allow greater contact and molding around the joint. Another good option is a bag of frozen peas or corn. Alway keep extra bags in the freezer for easy and quick trade outs.

When Should Heat Be Used?

What is the Best Way to Treat an Injury or Joint Pain: Heat Versus Ice? Heat typically works best for an osteoarthritic joint that has had a flare. Arthritis is a condition that will have symptoms that wax and wan. It cycles through inflammatory phases and non-inflammatory phases. People with arthritis can have very minimal symptoms when the arthritis is in a non-inflammatory phase. For example, arthritis  can enter an inflammatory phase from a change in weather, activity or an injury. In addition, heat can help reduce the symptoms of arthritis when it is is the inflammatory phase. Heat to the painful joint will increase blood flow. Natural anti-inflammatory factors are located  in the blood stream. Above all, these factors will help reduce the pain, swelling and stiffness.


What is the Best Way to Apply Heat ?

A moist heating pad is a great way to apply heat to a painful joint. A heating pad that emits a moist heat tends to give patients better relief      For instance, if you do not own a heating pad there are homemade options. For example, a moist towel thrown in the microwave then placed in a ziplock bag is a way to apply heat to a painful joint.