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Know the Difference: Ice or Heat for Injury Recovery

Imagine you’re at a picnic for Memorial Day. You’re tossing a Frisbee around with friends and having a good time. Someone throws the Frisbee over your head, so you jump for it—but as you land, your ankle twists and you fall. You know you should do something to treat your ankle right away, but one friend suggests ice and another calls for heat. Which do you choose: ice or heat?

Heat and ice are both used to treat injuries, but for different reasons. Ice tightens tissues and discourages swelling. Heat relaxes tissues and increases blood flow. The wrong one at the wrong time could exacerbate your discomfort.

Use ice immediately following an injury—especially a traumatic one. When you sprain a ligament or strain a muscle, the damage causes inflammation and swelling. Your capillaries may leak blood, creating a bruise. Cold causes those little blood vessels to constrict, so they don’t leak so much. This gives them time to seal up and begin healing. This also discourages swelling in the affected area and minimizes pain.

Heat does the opposite. It causes blood vessels to expand and relax, increasing the blood flow to the injury. If you’ve just sprained your ankle or broken a toe, heating it would increase the swelling and irritation in the damaged area, rather than helping relieve the pain. However, warmth is valuable for dealing with chronic conditions. Tissues that have stiffened and aren’t healing well benefit from heat’s relaxing effect, allowing the damaged structures to stretch out. The increased circulation boosts your immune response, too, encouraging your recovery.

So if you’re wondering whether to ice or heat a painful spot, remember that cold helps recent injuries, while heat is best for old or lingering damage. No matter which applies to your pain, you should have your discomfort checked out. Our team at Absolute Foot Care Specialists can provide additional treatment to help your feet recover as quickly as possible. Don’t live with the pain—request an appointment with one of our Las Vegas offices by calling (702) 839-2010 or by using our online request form.

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