Arthritis or Injury: Ice or Heat - Which To Apply? (cont.)


What about prior to exercise activity?

Again, before an exercise activity, heat applications can help nagging, recurrently injured areas by relaxing the muscles so that the workouts can occur as safely as possible. Muscles that are too tight are prone to injury. This is also why stretching before exercise is optimal in order to prevent injury. Immediately after a workout, however, ice should be applied to areas that have been bothered by activity in the past.


"My doctor told me to put ice on my elbow after a cortisone injection."

An application of ice can also minimize the inflammation that can occur after an injection procedure. This inflammation can be caused by the leakage of blood by injury to the tiny capillaries from the needle and by the cortisone medication itself. It can, therefore, be very helpful to apply a cold pack to the area for 20 minutes after a cortisone injection.

Can you apply too much ice or heat?

Yes. An easy way to properly apply ice is to use crushed ice in a plastic bag covered with a moistened towel. Such an application of ice easily conforms to the shape of the injured body part. Alternatively, a bag of frozen vegetables can be used in the same way. The cold pack should be applied over a moist towel on the injured body part. Apply for 20 minutes and remove for at least 20 to 40 minutes so that the skin is not injured from the icing. The doctor may recommend applications only a few times a day or throughout the day depending on the injury or condition.

Heat can also injure the tissues if it is excessively used. It actually can "cook" the skin, causing discoloration. Heat should only be applied for 20 minutes and should not be painful. Sometimes the doctor may recommend heat application several times a day depending on the situation. Never sleep on a heating pad, as this is a common cause of skin burning. Moist heat by heating pad or direct moisture from hot Jacuzzi can be effective depending on the injury or disease involved and overall condition of the patient. The elderly should be especially cautious about using Jacuzzi for therapeutic purposes and a doctor's advice is recommended.

Last Editorial Review: 10/20/2010