Now, Do I Use Heat or Ice for This Pain? by Robin Delia, PT
Here’s some info on how to use ice and heat especially for chronic pain, or gym workouts gone wrong.
What I taught people when I worked at Austin Pain Therapy is to use ice and heat. In other words 20-30 min of ice followed immediately by 20-30 of heat. The next step is to take a break for 30 min then repeat the process if you are really in a flare-up. It doesn’t matter whether ice or heat is used first, but I generally use ice first if it’s a bad flare-up as ice works to break the pain cycle. I then follow it with heat. But for instance if it’s a sore muscle but not throbbing and burning I would use heat first.
The truth is most people will only take the time to do one thing as there is always laundry to do, email, Dancing with the Stars, dinner, etc. I am guilty of this myself, but when I have a flare-up and finally take the time to use both it makes a significant difference in the pain level or intensity.
Don’t use electric heating pads first because most people stay on them longer than 30 min and this actually can cause more pain at a cellular level. I like the Bed Buddy Back Wrap which is hard to find any more. It has rice in it and is a moist heat, plus it’s portable so guess what, you can do all those chores around the house wearing it and even use it in the car to go pick up a pizza, who knew!
Another strategy is to use ice while getting ready for work and throw on your hot pack while driving to work. I have very expensive ice packs to very cheap and I’ve got to say I prefer my cheap one. Here is how to make one: Fill a one gallon zip lock back about half way with dish washing soap such as Palmolive. Burp it and then put it in another bag in case it leaks. Be sure to burp both bags. Lay the bag horizontally in the freezer and let chill for several hours.
It used to be that when you took them out they would be like a gel, but the formulas have changed and they are hard when you take them out. So I let it sit on the counter for a bit, but beware they are very cold so cover with a towel.
Now, a lot of women say they just don’t like “cold”. But the benefits can be worth it and its worth at least a try. So cover the pack up even more so that it’s just cool and you will gradually get used to the cold.
Don’t use cold packs however, if it really does increase your pain or you have numbness or RSD. A lot of women with Fibromyalgia can’t tolerate cold so listen to your body.
Okay, that covers the cold, so let’s talk about heat. Heat acts to relax the muscles and increase circulation. (Remember cold acts to break the pain cycle.) Now a lot of people say “Well it’s only temporary and the pain comes back”. I say “”True”, but if you have chronic, some relief, any amount of relief during the day is good.”
So here’s a way to make a heat pack and it’s a great way to treat painful hands and feet. Fill a pillowcase with about 4 lbs of dry white rice and then put it in a microwave for about 2 1/2 min. When you take it out, test for hot spots and move the rice around a bit to even out the heat. Next, put your rice filled pillowcase on a pillow on your lap and put your hands in the rice. If you are using this for feet, put the pillowcase on a towel and then slide your feet into the pillowcase.
The majority of my chronic pain sufferers, who regularly used ice and heat, stated at their discharge evaluation that they had a decrease in intensity and frequency of flare-ups. Additionally, they were able to get them under control quicker and were shorter in duration.
If you are suffering from pain, chronic or not, these steps often work and it’s worth it for some relief. Why not give it a shot?
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