The 411 of Heat and Ice for Pain Management
By Lani-Ann Matsunaga, Licensed Massage Therapist at Spa Gregorie’s Del Mar
The application of an ice pack reduces the flow of blood to the injured area, which in turn causes a reduction of local inflammation. By helping your body reduce inflammation, there is less pressure on the region, which reduces pain and helps your healing process. Application of an ice pack may also be useful in chronic injuries, especially in cases where inflamed joints may be causing problems with mobility. Since icing an injured area can help control inflammation, conditions such as arthritis, can also be relieved by applying cold packs to joints.
Heat packs are ideal for use on chronic conditions. Despite popular belief, the term ‘chronic condition’ refers to an injury which has been present for at least three months. A heat pack can help dilate (or open up) blood vessels, therefore stimulating the blood flow to a particular area. Heat packs are perfect when dealing with areas where there is a lot of muscular tension like in the lower back, shoulders or neck region. Heat can also be used for injuries caused by overuse.
Heat should not be used immediately after an injury has occurred, especially one in which there is inflammation (excess heat), as this will do more harm than good.
*Since heat dilates blood vessels, it can be beneficial to use after an ice pack. The dilation of blood vessels allows for fresh blood flow through the injured region. This fresh blood flow moves out metabolic wastes and brings nutrients to the compromised area, allowing for more efficient healing.