Have you ever had an ache or pain and felt confused about whether to apply a heat or cold pack? The benefits of both have been well researched, but there is a right time and right place for each type of temperature to be applied to the body.
Ice, or cryotherapy as it is scientifically referred to, can take the form of a frozen wet towel, freezer bag of ice cubes, frozen peas, or a reusable cold pack from the chemist. Like Nageze, it acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. Upon first injuring ourselves, ice helps to reduce swelling and slow down the inflammatory mechanisms inside the body. It can also provide an analgesic (pain-killing) effect by slowing down the pain messages going up to the brain.
Heat obviously feels nice for the body, and it does the opposite to ice – it encourages blood flow to the area, which can be great to get the joints and muscles moving. You could use wheat bags, a warm bath or shower, hydrotherapy, heat rubs, massage, or simple exercise to warm up your body.
But which one should you use, and when? Always consult the advice of a health professional if you are experiencing a symptom which is new to you.
Scenario 1: Sprained ankle
When a soft tissue injury has first occurred, Sports Medicine Australia recommends the RICE principles:
Rest the injured limb immediately
Apply ice to the area: place on affected joint for 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, 10 minutes on again every 2 hours for the first two days. After this period, ice should be applied after prolonged activity or standing (to reduce swelling and inflammation).
Compress the ankle with a firm bandage to reduce bleeding inside the joint and minimise swelling. Remember not to wrap too tightly!
Elevate the ankle above the level of the pelvis. This could be on a chair, couch or bed supported by cushions. Elevation creates a decrease in pressure in the joint and guides excess fluid back into the circulation.
Note: Ice should not be applied to areas of the body with decreased circulation, for example areas affected by Raynaud Syndrome or peripheral vascular disease.
Scenario 2: Joint stiffness in the morning
Although it might not be possible to bounce out of bed anymore, we can start the day on a high note by getting our joints moving. If your muscles and tendons are weak and not getting much movement through the day, they will tighten up during the night. Likewise, if your joints are starting to experience ‘wear and tear’, they might be producing less synovial fluid, which hydrates and lubricates the joints.
One of the simplest things we can do to look after these joints is to have a nice, warm shower first thing in the morning. You may also wish to continue the heat application throughout your morning, in the form of heat packs or dressing warmly to keep the blood flowing. This is particularly important in winter, particularly if you are sensitive barometric pressure. Once you start to move around, the joint movement itself will become smoother and you can get more out of your day.
Scenario 3: Flare up of regular joint pain
If you’ve been warming up correctly each morning, moving every day, and suddenly find yourself with a ‘new’ type of pain in your body, it is best to chat about this with a trusted health professional.
If, on the other hand, you’ve had a day of unusually high activity (for example – gardening for the first time in a while, going up and down lots of stairs, standing for prolonged periods) it is best to sit down, pop your feet up and apply some ice packs to your sore spots as outlined above in the RICE protocol.
This will prevent the joint from becoming too swollen as you sleep and recover, which leads to more stiffness in the morning, and the cycle repeats. It is also an ideal time to take some Nageze Joint Pain as an additional natural helper.
Remember that you are the expert of your own body! If there is a new type of pain, ice is nice. If you have ongoing stiffness and general achiness, heat gets the blood flowing and the body moving. And if something doesn’t feel quite right, don’t ignore it.
Brukner, P., 2012. Brukner & Khan’s clinical sports medicine. North Ryde: McGraw-Hill.
About the Author: Jennifer Smallridge
Jennifer is a highly qualified Exercise Physiologist (Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science and Master of Clinical Exercise Physiology). Her broad experience in the industry spans private practice, hospitals and community health; developing special interests in cardiovascular physiology, weight loss, joint pathologies, neurological conditions and chronic pain. In addition to her role as an exercise physiologist, Jennifer is an academic lecturer in the fields of Exercise Science, Human Anatomy and Physical Activity for Health. She is also a keen exerciser herself, and keeps fit through strength training, yoga, Pilates, dancing and cycling.