There is often much confusion about what is the best option to help with pain and injury…is heat or cold the best option? The answer very much depends on where the pain is as well as the structures that are injured.
If the injury is an acute joint, ligament or tendon strain, and swelling and inflammation is the main issue, then ice is the best option. By reducing the blood flow, the swelling and any bruising will be significantly reduced. For much the same reason icing can also be beneficial for some chronic injuries such as tennis elbow and plantar fasciitis. With these injuries inflammation commonly develops and icing can bring a lot of relief. Finally icing can be very helpful post-surgery if pain and inflammation persists, such as following a Knee replacement.
Recommended icing time is 15-20 minutes, and can be repeated every few hours initially.
Heat is far more important where muscle tightness or spasm is the main issue. For example, an injury to the neck or lower back can cause significant stiffness and muscle spasm, which can increase the pain and prolong the overall healing time. A simple heat bag can help keep the muscles relaxed and bring relief. It is important to realise that heat can really help with chronic pain for the same reason; relaxation of the muscles. Finally, heat can also be very important if stress is a factor, for example if work stress is adding to neck pain. The more you can relax the muscles, the more relief you will get!
Heat bags are recommended to stay on for about 20 minutes at time.