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Short-term Injuries Vs. Long-term Pain: When Do You Use Ice or Heat?

By HERWriter Guide
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when do you use ice or heat for pain and injuries? MonkeyBusiness Images/PhotoSpin

As someone who suffers tendinopathy from her shoulder down to her wrist, I know a little bit about using heat and ice due to sports injuries. Playing tennis has afforded me fantastic exercise, a more toned body, a better social life and much better mental health.

But it has also given me a fairly bad case of tendinopathy -- very inflamed tissue and swelling on most of my right arm with pain after practices and matches.

I'm not prepared to give up tennis so I get occupational therapy, try to hit in a way that's far less damaging to my arm, and ice on a constant basis directly after a match to reduce the injuries that play causes.

For me, it's ice that works wonders. Without it, I probably couldn't continue to compete in tennis because inflammation is during and after play. But how do any of us know when ice works best -- or heat? When do we warm our bodies up or cool them down?

Knowing the difference can be of great benefit ... and not knowing can cause potential harm.

Active.com, a website about active lifestyles and sports, states that the kind of injury is key to understanding whether heat or cold is better. For a recent injury -- say, one that happened within seconds, minutes or a couple of hours -- ice is much better.

Ice immediately decreases the swelling that an injury causes and makes the risks of bruising lessen because icing slows down the flow of blood. Icing also provides instant relief from pain because it numbs the area.

It is recommended to only apply ice for 10 minutes every hour. The more often the cycle is allowed to transition, the faster one’s body can recover from an acute muscle injury This is injury that has severe onset and a short course.

Not over-icing is very important. My occupational therapist warned me about forgetting that my arm was iced and the possibilities of freezing the arm so much that hypothermia could be a genuine risk.

The temptation to over-ice is there because it provides such an instant relief for pain. It's easy to forget that an arm has been iced for 45 minutes to an hour, something that is very risky for human tissue.

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EmpowHER Guest

I use ice if it is a single malt...if it's a blend, I add a little club soda to it.
Heat is for the Irish version mixed with a little coffee and mint creme.

April 30, 2013 - 11:35am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.