When we get an injury we all want some relief, but we also want to make sure we aren’t doing any more damage to the area and to know that what we are doing is beneficial.
But what about when you’ve woken up and your neck feels ‘locked’? Every time you try to turn it you get a sharp pain or stiffness. What is best?
Which brings us to the age old question, should I apply Cold or Heat??
What does Ice do?
When cold is applied to an area, it restricts blood flow and causes constriction of blood vessels, hence causing the bleeding of an injury to be reduced, along with any inflammation. It can be a very effective pain reliever (once you have got over the ‘cold’ bit).
Heat application causes dilation of blood vessels and increases the blood flow to a muscle, which can have a relaxing effect and aid in pain relief.
Both are useful and both can provide relief, however it is important to know at what stage to use them and the symptoms to look for that can help you choose which medium to use!
So if you have injured yourself
As a general rule, if an injury is showing signs of inflammation, ie. It is hot, red or swollen, then Ice is recommended as this will reduce the inflammatory process.
Other signs of inflammation can be
- pain at night or when you settle for the day,
- throbbing pain, or
- pain that is a dull ache/throb deep in the area of injury.
Usually inflammation occurs for 2-3 days post injury, so if you roll an ankle, pull a muscle, get a knock or have a definite injury, ice for the first 2-3 days is recommended, using it for 20 min every 2 hours.
For that sore back or neck
Heat is generally used for a more chronic injury, or if an injury has passed this inflammatory stage and is feeling more stiff and tight. Because of the increased blood flow, heat can help relax tight muscles, and with increased blood flow and nutrients to the source, can be a nice way to get some pain relief.
Signs to use heat may include
- feeling stiff and tight,
- waking in the morning with tight/stiff areas that improve as you get moving,
- pains that feel better when you have a hot shower or do some exercises to warm them up
- general aches and pains that have been there for a long time and haven’t recently been stirred up.
And my locked neck?
If you did something to injure your neck (twisted quickly of jolted it somehow). Ice is best. BUT if you just woke up feeling stiff and didn’t do anything to injure it, Heat will help relax the muscles and ease some pain. As always, if unsure contact your friendly physiotherapist.
To sum it up:
ICE is best if – red, hot, swollen, acute injury (2-3 days), achey/throbbing pain, sore at night when resting.
HEAT is best if – stiff, tight, feels good when shower or do exercises, morning stiffness, no acute injury.