When we first injure ourselves our body sends in fluid to protect the area. It is like turning on a small drip from a tap. Our body has a great “on” switch but a lousy “off” switch. If we leave this tap on, pretty soon there is too much fluid and this pressure compresses the nerves and muscle and causes pain. This process is called “inflammation”. We cannot begin to heal until we reduce the inflammation.
To reduce the inflammation it is important to put ICE on the site. How quickly we get ice on it actually makes a difference to our progress and how fast we heal. Sooner is better!
**To remember this scenario, think about a marshmallow. If you heat a marshmallow – it expands in size. If you put a marshmallow in the fridge or freezer, it shrinks.
To apply ice, wet a tea towel or cloth, with hot water. Put this wet cloth on the site and the ice pack on top of that. This way the cold is absorbed deeper with the wet cloth but there is a delay in the penetrating cold. Only leave the ice on for 20 minutes at a time. There is no limit to how often you ice, as long as there is an on again – off again sequence. The “off” time should be the same amount of time as the “on” time. Minimum amount of time applied should be 5 minutes.
For the first 72 hours following an injury, our body pumps in fluid or inflammation. How much ice is applied during this stage directly influences how quickly we heal. During the days following this, our body will tell us when ice is not longer helpful.
If we put ice on healthy tissue it feels cold and uncomfortable. When our injury starts to feel this way with ice, it is time to switch to heat. Heat can be applied with no limits of how long to keep it on.
Rule of Thumb
If it’s a new injury – apply ice
If you’re not sure, apply ice and see how it feels. If it feels good and numbs the area, then keep applying it until that changes
If it’s a long term ache or a pain from a familiar injury, apply heat.