The use of ice during the initial (acute) stage of an injury constricts blood vessels, which decreases blood flow to the injured area. The decreased blood flow helps to decrease swelling, inflammation, pain, and muscle spasm. Ice also decreases cell metabolism and helps to prevent tissue death.
To achieve the therapeutic benefits associated with the application of ice to the body, the recommended time of application is approximately 20 minutes. During the 20 minutes, the body goes through four different stages of sensations: (1) coldness, (2) burning, (3) aching, and (4) finally numbness. As soon as you feel the sensation of numbness, the ice should be removed from the body. Wait an hour before re-applying ice to the same area of the body.
The application of heat to the body also has therapeutic benefits. Heat causes the blood vessels to dilate, which increases the blood flow to the area. The increase blood flow will bring oxygen and nutrients to the injured area. It will also help to remove any metabolic waste that was created as a result of the injury.
In contrast to the application of ice, the application of heat will increase cell metabolism, which promotes healing. Heat increases the extensibility of muscle and connective tissue, which increases their receptiveness to exercise and stretching, therefore helping to increase flexibility and range of motion.
Heat can be used to increase blood flow to areas of chronic pain, tightness, and muscle spasm. Heat should not be used in the first 24 hours after an injury because it will cause an increase in swelling and inflammation.
If you’re uncertain about the application of ice and heat, then we encourage you either to consult with your physician or to ask a member of the Fleet Feet Sports Wilmington team for a medical referral. It is important to seek the advice of a medical professional sooner rather than later.