‘Hey doc, will sitting in my hot tub relieve my sciatica’? The question of using heat or ice comes up everyday in our office. Most people are ready to do their part in taking care of themselves, but just aren’t sure where to start. You ask one person and they swear by ice. Ask a hot tub salesman and beautiful relief is just a few heated bubbles away. So for today let’s go over the benefits of heat and ice and why they each have their place is this world.
First let’s start with heat. By far there are more people in the pro-heat camp. Most would rather snuggle up to a heating pad over an ice pack. When you apply heat to an area of your body you increase the blood to that area. This is why your face turns red when going out in the sun. What happens is the heat causes your blood vessels to dilate or become wider. This brings more blood to the surface. And blood does not travel alone.
With it vital nutrients and oxygen come to the site. These guys promote healing of an old injury with extra reinforcements. All this extra blood that the heating pad brings has another benefit too. Not only can more be taken to the site but more trash can also be taken away. Lactic acid and other waste particles are also more quickly cleared from the site.
Now let’s move on to ice. To better understand why to ice, first we should better understand what happens with a new injury. Let’s say your running and on the final stretch of your route you sprain your ankle. Your body reacts and sends fluids rushing to your ankle. In any ‘new’ injury the body’s inflammation is the natural response. And this is a smart move too.
All that extra fluid acts as a natural splint for the area. It also keeps infection at bay in an open wound. When you apply ice to the swollen ankle it pushes away some of that extra fluid. And all that extra fluid is what cause bruising and tissue damage.
Now here is where it gets tricky. It would be just too easy to say ice for a new injury and heat for an old one. You can have a ‘new’ old injury. Let’s go back to that sprained ankle to clear this up. So you injure your ankle and put ice on it for about 20 minutes several times a day until it looks more like your other one.
A week later while you’re at work you trip over a wire, but catch yourself in mid fall. Although the fall doesn’t feel like a big deal, this can be enough for the inflammation process to start again. An injured joint can be touchy for quite a while. You can also have swollen tissue deeper in the body that may not be so obvious.
So for a new injury keep your ice pack handy. And save the hot tub for when for an old football injury. And when in doubt pick up the phone and let you health care professional make that call.