Spring is slowly arriving! As we emerge from the dark, cold days of winter where we wanted to do little more than curl up in a ball under a pile of blankets, we now are beginning to feel a renewal of energy and enthusiasm to moving our bodies and getting active. Exercise enthusiasts with the best intentions will often find themselves incurring a sprain, strain or injury at some point. Most of the time these issues can be resolved rather easily with ice therapy. Following, are guidelines for ice therapy.
The benefit of ice:
Cold treatments can slow down the blood flow to an injury (slowing circulation), which will reduce pain and swelling, inflammation, muscle spasms and pain.
When to apply ice:
For the best results, ice the injury immediately! This is when the results will be most significant. After 48 hours the response to ice therapy is less effective. Make sure to elevate the injured body part above heart level to minimize swelling.
How to apply ice:
You can apply ice in several ways. You can prepare a sealed lunch bag with ice cubes, a freezable gel-pack found in any pharmacy, a bag of frozen peas (conforms well to the body), or a small block of ice (frozen paper cup of water).
How to protect the skin:
Do not place the ice directly against the skin. Place a dishcloth, a washcloth or a dishtowel, for example, between the ice and the skin. Try ‘massaging’ the affected area by moving the ice around the area regularly.
How long to ice:
For the best results, never ice longer than a period of 20 minutes. Doing so can cause adverse affects such as amplifying swelling, tissue damage or frostbite. After 20 minutes remove the ice and allow the area to rest for 40-45 minutes before reapplying. As a rule of thumb, think ‘20m minutes on, 40 minutes off’.
When NOT to apply ice:
Icing is especially bad for low back pain. This type of pain is rarely caused by an injury, and inflammation is not typically involved. Most often, it is the result of muscular trigger points (known as knots). Trigger points can be aggravated by ice and will respond better to heat therapy. There are, however, a couple of instances where ice may be useful for the back. This would include muscular strains or sprains caused by heavy lifting (muscles may be damaged, traumatized or inflamed). In these cases heat may exacerbate the inflammation and ice would reduce it. Most neck pain also should NOT be iced.
In situations where you are unsure as to whether ice or heat therapy would be most beneficial, always consult a physician.