When you’re recovering from an injury or in pain and discomfort, we as health professionals often recommend heat or ice. But which is it?

Let’s talk science for a second… stay with me!

Ice is known to vasoconstrict blood vessels. This means it narrows them, which ultimately reduces circulation to an area. When we reduce circulation to an area we are trying to reduce build-up of swelling, toxins, and lymph. This is great during the immediate injury or pain phase when the body is in its inflammatory phase.

Science says the body is in this phase for 24-48 hours, then we pass into another phase called the proliferation phase. This is when the body begins to repair and lots of other cool things happen! During this phase the body needs lots of nutritious blood supply to help heal, repair and oxygenate the tissues.

So to bring lots of bloody supply to the ares we need to open the blood vessels know as vasodilation. And we can get this reaction by using heat.

Heat also makes tissue more pliable and elastic and therefore reduces spasm, and it can also have an effect on something called the pain gate. It basically sends signals quicker to the brain than pain signals can get there and closes the gate in the brain, so the brain defects less or no pain. Pretty cool! Ice also does this, but in my opinion when you’re in pain, heat is a much more pleasurable experience.

So, if you fall over and scrape your knee, pop some ice on, but if you are aching, stiff or had the injury for a while go for heat.

Don’t use heat or ice on open wounds, when there is any sign of infection, or if you have diabetes or any other circulatory problems.

And if you are unsure, consult one of us at Katie Bell Physiotherapy & Wellness.