Do I use ice or heat?
Ah the age old question! My (fill in the blank) hurts, should I put ice on it, or heat? The answer is not always black and white...
When an injury first happens, you go into an immediate inflammatory response. Ice is a natural anti-inflammatory and also a vaso-constrictor so it will slow the progression of any chemical changes that happen right after an injury occurs. So, ice is a great go to for any acute injury.
Heat increases blood flow and circulation which helps a great deal with muscle tightness, scar tissue or generalized stiffness. If you feel like you are stiff or in spasm, heat might be more for you.
With that said, both ice and heat are pain modalities so both will help decrease pain- just in different ways. As a generalized rule, patients should know that acute pain (think angry, red, swollen, pinching, stabbing, etc) prefers ice and more chronic pain or stiffness prefers heat.
Both come in many formats. If you like ice, have you considered an ice cup or ice bath for more direct contact? If so, be sure to lessen the amount of time you do it. For heat, there are heat packs, a hot shower and/or a whirlpool. Ice can cause stiffness, so be sure to ice no more than 20-30 min at time in order to limit muscle and joints feeling tight. No matter which method of pain management you choose, always be sure to listen to your body and look at it afterwards to make sure you skin is intact and you have adequate blood flow to the area.
As always, if these do not manage the pain, contact your doctor or physical therapist for an evaluation!