Hey Doc, Should I Use Heat or Ice After an Injury?

You decided to join the local soft ball league and went out for the catcher position after a 10 year hiatus from the game. Two and half weeks into the season your low back is telling you this could be a mistake. So you go home and consider putting ice on your back or maybe heat? You can’t remember what that acronym is that would help guide you to the right choice.

If you suffer an injury such as a sprain, strain or muscle pull immediate first aid treatment can control the initial inflammatory response, put the body on the healing track and reduce the likelihood of complications. We say in sports medicine remember to R.I.C.E., which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Used within the first 48 hours will help reduce swelling, help control pain and protect the injured area from further damage.

Let’s Break It Down

  1. Rest: Resting the anatomical area is recommended. This does not mean bed rest. You need to stop playing and protect the injured area. Reduce all activity which may put additional stress or strain on the part of your body that is hurt.
  2. Ice: When icing an injured area use an ice pack. We recommend putting the ice pack on the area two to four times for 15 min each time within the first 24 hours. Do not over utilize the ice, this is a situation were too much can be a bad thing.  Using the ice longer then 15-20 min can change the effects of the ice and cause additional swelling.
  3. Compression: Using a compression wrap, ace bandage or lumbar support for the spine is recommended to support the injured tissue from further damage.  Some people will report less pain when using a compression wrap, if your pain increases check if the wrap is too tight.
  4. Elevation: Elevation of an injured area can help reduce swelling. For example, a sprained ankle can be elevated on the cough using a pillow. However, this is difficult when it’s a back injury. We recommend periodically lying flat on the floor for 20-30 min. this will help reduce swelling and rest the injured area.

The Healing Process

After two days or so of the emergency protocol the healing process is beginning. But if your pain or swelling is persisting please seek the advice of a professional.

Additional home remedies after the initial two to three days may include, gentle massage, gentle stretching, moist heat after the swelling is resolved, modified activity to slowly reintroduce sports. Strengthening is the last phase of healing and may take several weeks to work up to that. Start with light and go easy. Less is more in the beginning.

Finally, it’s time to get out there and “PLAY BALL”!

What have you used after an injury to aid in the healing process? Did you have to go see a professional after two or so days? Share with us in the comments below!

Dr. Lori Nuzzi

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