Hot or Cold?

People are easily confused about treating sports injuries. Should an ice pack or the heating pad be applied? Our bodies go through stages as we heal: acute, subacute and chronic. This first step in treating any injury is determining which stage of injury is being experienced.

The first stage, the acute stage, begins with the injury and lasts for approximately a week. During this time there is an increase of mast cells (tissue response) in the bloodstream and an increased release of histamine, both of which cause swelling at the site of the injury. Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) should be combined to reduce local bleeding which produces swelling, pain and muscle spasms.

Ice should be applied in a cycle of on for 20 minutes, off for 20 minutes (repeated as often as needed). Use ice with caution because if it is left on for too long a time without the “warming” sequence, tissue damage similar to a burn may occur.

The next stage, subacute, usually lasts up to three weeks, depending on the severity of the injury. Continued swelling and scar formation is likely. Ice may still be used to control swelling and pain. Heat should be used before exercise and strechting. The same type of guide line should be used when applying heat as with ice – 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off – as needed.

The final phase is the chronic stage that typically lasts between 6 months to a year. Ice and heat may be used interchangeably during this stage. It is a good idea to use heat before a workout or activity then use ice for any inflammation caused by working out.

Always warm up/stretch before any activity. Use the same routine after the activity to minimize muscle tightness. Manny injuries are caused by a lack of preparation before engaging in muscle use. If an injury does occur, use common sense, immediately cease using the injured area, and apply RICE.