One of the most common home remedies informs people to put either something cold or something hot on a sore spot or minor injury. But there is, and probably always will be, some confusion about which times call for ice and which times call for heat.

A plastic bag with ice cubes or a store-bought ice pack can be used in some cases when cold treatment is needed. Heating pads, usually electric, are also helpful when heat treatment is the thing to do. According to most instructions from medical personnel and sports trainers, ice is called for with injuries that are considered “acute. An injury sustained very recently, say in the last day or two that results in mild swelling should be treated with ice. An ice pack is used to help reduce swelling that is already present and keep the area from swelling even more. Sprained ankles are an example where this treatment might be useful.

However, sports trainers and medical people also use cold treatment for injuries that are considered “chronic,” meaning that they have existed over a period of time or become a constant source of trouble for an athlete. This ice treatment situation can help reduce inflamed tissue. However, it is not advisable to put ice on such an injury before engaging in physical activity.

As for treating the body with heat, this is called for with those chronic situations, but to help relax the muscle and other body tissue in the painful area. Heat treatment has one primary benefit in that it helps increase blood flow. While ice treatment is often the correct action after physical action, heat treatment is not. It is advisable to keep the area from getting too hot. Medical personnel and trainers emphasize that heating pads or hot towels are not to be left on for long periods of time.

People who put a little more emphasis on training for building their bodies sometimes find that sore muscles come with a slight delay. In fact, in the field of sports medicine the condition is actually called by that name “delayed onset.” Body building also comes with such conditions as strained muscles, sprains and even muscle spasms.

Some of this is due to the repetition that is necessary with proper weight training. Other problems arise from the intense nature of the activity, which can cause a number of different problems with muscles, bones and tendons. Ice and heat, properly used, can help with many of these problems. However, even professional athletes get confused about when to use ice and when to use heat.

When an ailment causes the injured body part to be inflamed and heated, ice therapy may be the right move. In other situations, hot packs can be used to increase the temperature. In simplest terms, the choice between ice and heat comes down to the type of injury and when it took place. In either case, it is not good to use the treatment for more than 20 minutes at a time. Doctors will often recommend ice packs for inflamed joints due to arthritis.


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Lucas Beaumont
Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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