Patients often inquire whether to use ice or heat for their pain. In the chiropractic profession, ice is the recommended treatment over heat. This blog will hopefully provide some information on the benefits of using ice.
Ice is a type of cryotherapy (cold therapy), which is used to treat acute musculoskeletal injuries. Acute pain is when it has occurred within the first 6 weeks of the onset of pain and chronic pain is anything over 6 weeks of the onset of pain. Acute pain means there is inflammation present, which is associated with signs of tenderness, swelling, and warmth. The pain typically occurs suddenly and can be temporary, whereas chronic pain occurs over a prolonged period of time or can be an aggravation of an existing injury or condition.
How does cold therapy work? Cold therapy is used on many conditions or injuries such as arthritis, headaches, muscle strains, ligament sprains, and tendonitis to name a few. When these injuries occur, there is an inflammatory reaction that causes the injured tissue to release chemicals, which results in dilation and increased permeability of the blood vessels. Due to this reaction there is pain, swelling and tenderness at the site of the injury. This is where the cold therapy comes into play. Decreasing the temperature of the tissue area that the ice is directly applied to will cause the blood vessels to constrict resulting in a decrease of the metabolism of the tissue. These physiological effects will then control the inflammation and edema at the site thus decreasing pain and muscle spasms at the site of the injury.
Now, let's compare cold therapy to heat therapy. Heat therapy can decrease pain and relax the tight muscles but it does not help with inflammation and edema and can delay the healing time at the site of the injury. Heat can have more benefits for injuries that are over 6 weeks old.
The types of cold therapy used for acute injuries or flare-ups of chronic conditions used most often in practice are:
When using these cold therapies:
There are precautions to take when using cold therapies. Some of the precautions include circulatory insufficiency, allergies to cold, and diabetes. Talk with your healthcare provider about using ice if you have any of the precautions. They may not recommend cold therapy or alter the type of therapy to use. Allergies to cold have symptoms associated when ice is applied to the skin. The symptoms are red, itchy welts that appear after the application of ice.
If you have questions about the best cold therapy to use for your injury or condition, be sure to ask your chiropractor. They will be able to guide you and give you instructions on how to properly use cold therapy at home.
Dr. West is board certified by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE). She received her Doctorate of Chiropractic from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, IA in 2012. Prior to attending Palmer, she received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Microbiology from Michigan State University.