Ice packs are commonly used for inflammatory acute injuries. If you have a recent injury (within the last 48 hours), especially if swelling is a problem, you should be using ice. Rugby players have a dip in an ice bath after a game to reduce any inflammation, you do not need to go this far!
Ice packs can help minimize swelling around the injury because ice constricts the blood vessels and reduces blood flow. Icing the injury site early and regularly will help minimize swelling which will in turn help to reduce the pain. It is recommended that ice is only applied for 10-20 minutes every hour or so.
Heat is generally used for chronic injuries (>3 months old) or injuries that have no inflammation or swelling. Aching, tight or stiff muscles or joints is ideal for the use of heat therapy.
Patients with chronic pain or injuries may use heat therapy before exercise to increase the elasticity of the tissues and to stimulate blood flow. Heat can also help relax tight muscles or muscle spasms. I often recommend hot baths with bath salts for some of my chronic patients.
Do not use heat after activity, and do not use heat after an acute injury. This can make the problem worse. When using heat treatments, be very careful to use a moderate heat for a limited time (10-20 minutes) to avoid burns. Never leave heat pads on for extended periods of time, or while sleeping.
Hot and Cold Packs
Combining the two together is excellent for stimulating blood flow and speeding up healing to an area. Fractures (once acute stage has passed), chronic muscle problems, Raynaud’s patients, arthritic joints, shin splints, carpel tunnel syndrome are just a few conditions this treatment may be used for. Athletes use this therapy a lot as they say it gets them back in the game faster.