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How to manage your injury (Ice versus Heat)

No one likes getting injured, it just happens and is one of those things whether it is through overuse (the most common type) or following a trip, fall or crash. Injuries can vary in their severity and consequently your recovery time and the treatment options available to you.

What is important post injury is how you manage it, as this can influence your overall recovery. In this post we’ve put together an infographic highlighting the differences between the application of ice and heat following an injury and when to use each. You may have seen injury based acronyms used in other blog posts and across the web and typically directed towards RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) but to stay away from HARM (heat, alcohol, running, massage).

If we look at the RICE principles then these seem to make sense following an injury. Rest is important as it allows the body time to heal naturally and obviously should you carry on with your activity you run the risk of causing further damage and lengthier spell out of action, so it’s best to stop. Ice works to manage inflammation and can be quite soothing, just remember not to place the ice directly onto the skin otherwise than will hurt. Compression typically comes in the form of bracing which works to manage inflammation on the move (ice is used when static) which can also offer pain relieving benefits. Finally, elevating the affected area above the level of the heart reduces the blood flow to the area and as a result will also reduce inflammation.

If we take HARM then obviously three out of the four are self-explanatory. Alcohol thins the blood and prevents clotting, essential if you have a cut or abrasion. If you’ve sprained your ankle then running would be ill-advised as there is an inherent weakness in the joint and potentially instability, thereby increasing the risk of you rolling your ankle and causing further damage. Massages (sports or therapeutic) can be great after a workout or when relaxing on a spa weekend but following an injury the last thing you want is someone manipulating it.

You may have noticed that we left the ‘H’ out which stands for heat and the reason is because it depends on the condition you are suffering from as to whether it is a good idea or bad idea to avoid it. In a nutshell, heat should be applied to manage muscle injuries, chronic pain and stress whereas the application of ice should be for injuries in line with the RICE protocols.

The following infographic gives you some idea as to when you should reach for the ice pack and when putting the heat pad in the microwave is the preferred option. Should you be unsure as to the severity of an injury then at any time then you should speak with a clinician or visit your doctor for a professional diagnosis as understanding the root cause of the problem will allow you to treat it better.

Ice versus heat infographic - comparing the two types of therapy