Ice is used to treat acute injuries, or any condition that is accompanied by an inflammatory response. If it’s red, puffy, or hot to touch, put ice on it! Make sure there is a barrier between your skin and the ice or you risk frostbite and ice burns- a thin towel works well. It’s important to remember the stages of cold therapy: CBAN, which stands for cold, burning, aching, and numb. Cold will be the first thing you feel upon application, then a burning or aching sensation, followed by the other. Once the tissue is numb, remove the ice or you could cause damage. Allow the skin to return to normal temperature before reapplying.
SOME COLD APPLICATIONS:
Ice massage- this involves massaging the area directly with an ice cube. Be sure to keep the ice moving so you don’t freeze your skin, and stop treating once the area is numb. This is a great way to target a specific area like a tendon or small joint.
Cold pack- You can get freezable gel packs here at Choice or at a drug store, or just try a bag of crushed ice. Be sure to wrap it in a towel first. If you want to increase the intensity, wet the towel. This is a good way to affect a larger area such as a whole muscle.
Cold water- fill a bowl or bucket with cold water (as cold as you can stand it) and take the plunge! This is used for hands and feet, and usually in contrast with hot water as well.
Frozen water bottle- this is a very specific treatment for the bottom of your feet. Rolling your foot over a frozen water bottle helps to break up adhesions and works as a pain reliever as well.
Heat is used for chronic injuries, as it stimulates blood flow which brings nutrients and oxygen to stiff, undernourished tissues. There’s no specific time limit to heat application, but be sure not to over stimulate the muscles. A good rule is to keep your treatments limited to 45 minutes or less.
Be careful not to fall asleep while using a heating pad. If you are going to take heat to bed with you, be sure to use a hot water bottle, hot gel pack – something that will cool off with time. You can vary the temperature from warm to hot, but don’t overdo it; you don’t want to burn yourself. Your skin will turn red, that’s normal, but if it feels like its burning or it starts to turn bright or dark red, take it off or turn it down.
SOME HOT APPLICATIONS:
Hot towels- easy to do at home, but it can get messy. You also have to make sure that they stay hot, so keep dipping them in water to maintain their heat. You can use them anywhere on your body.
Heating pad- this is a great way to get a regulated application of heat as most have a built in temperature control. They come in several sizes as well, so you can use them to target different areas. If you are interested in purchasing a good quality heating pad, talk to your therapist at Choice- we often will special order heating pads for our patients.
Hot packs and Magic bags- The freezable gel packs sold at Choice and most found at a drug store can also be microwaved, and so can magic bags. These are great because they are mouldable- you can form them around your neck, ankle, or any smaller area. They do lose heat however, so you may have to make several trips back to the kitchen.
If none of these methods are accessible, jump into a hot shower or bath. If your therapist has given you some stretches, try doing them while you’re in there (if you can do so safely!).
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can mix both hot and cold therapy. Start with heat and allow enough time between the two extremes for your body to return to (close to) normal temperature. This is to avoid skin damage more than anything. Be sure to end your session with cold to flush away any residual inflammation and toxins.
The most important thing to remember is that whatever the application, be it hot or cold, it should help to ease the pain and leave you feeling better that you started out. If you’re using the wrong therapy, your body will let you know. If it causes you pain, makes you feel worse, or just plain feels wrong, STOP. And, as always, if you have any questions the entire Choice team is only a phone call away!
By Teresa Noye, RMT