The Road To Recovery - Heat or Ice?
My first injury ever was a broken toe, and my mother made me run laps around the mat for the rest of the night. She said she wanted me to know that even if I was hurt, I was still fine - Ronda Rousey.
I’ll be straight here - injuries can be a living hell. Aside from chronic pain and discomfort, the negative impact that sitting on the sidelines has on the mind can really get you down. Nothing hurts more than watching all that hard work fade away.
The right treatment early on is key to shortening your recovery time, and temperature-based treatments are proven to work wonders when it comes to getting back to your best.
Here are my tips on how best to use heat and ice in the rehabilitation process:
As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to use ice treatments for:
- recent inflammation - soft tissue damage and swelling etc.
- immediate tears - to muscles and tendons, although only for the first few days to reduce pain and calm heat in the area.
- bones and joints - including fractures, sprains and ligament damage.
A simple ice pack is a cheap, successful treatment that does wonders for a number of injuries including those mentioned above. The best way to apply this is to wrap in a tea towel (unless it is designed to go straight on skin) and put it on the affected area for 10 minutes at a time. Ice packs can be utilised as often as you like through the day but give the area time in between applications to warm to normal temperature..
As well as lending a hand to recuperation, this will do wonders for dulling pain - it’s great way to avoid the drugs when you can.
Top tip - don’t ice for too long: this can do more harm than good, as it reduces the blood flow to the injured area, actually slowing the healing process.
Sometimes, we need to use warmth not cold to speed up recovery. But when is the right time to bring the heat? Heat-based recovery is best for:
- muscles - aches and stiffness, normally longer standing issues.
- chronic pain - particularly back pain.
Heat pads and hot, wet towels are great household therapies that you can grab with ease when the aches and pains play up. They help to relax and soothe tissues while stimulating blood flow to the painful space.
A psychological culprit for pain is, yet again, stress - heat-based treatments will, ironically, help you chill out, and you’ll watch that pain lift once you’ve relaxed.
The NHS recommends hydrotherapy, as hot tubs are a great way to reduce chronic pain. Soaking for just 30 minutes is proven to improve flexibility and blood flow to allow oxygen and other nutrients to circulate around the body faster.
If you’re looking for one, I’d recommend speaking to the lovely folks at The Hot Tub & SwimSpa Centre in Norwich.
As your fitness guy, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t to recommend seeing a professional before treating yourself - injuries can have nasty sources, and it’s best to get this seen to before things get worse.
While ice and heat won’t work wonders to have you back up and running overnight, they’re cheap, easy treatments that are accesable and easy to use. They can be used incorrectly so exercise common sense - don't heat a resh injury or swelling, don't apply heat to someone who is sweating and don't apply ice to someone who is shivering!
If you’re unsure about this, just ask - professionals will be happy to help, and it’s always best to get an experienced view before being your own doctor. If you're not sure then go with whichever one feels right.
Rob, Norwich’s Sport Performance Guy
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