Sports Injury Treaments (cont.)

In general, application of cold packs or ice has the following effects:

  • Reduces swelling following a traumatic injury
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Produces a numbing effect than can reduce pain
  • Decreases blood flow to an area
  • Decreases muscle spasms

The effects of heat therapy include:

  • Increased blood flow to an area
  • Relief from tension or tightness in muscles
  • May reduce joint stiffness
  • Optimizes healing/rehabilitation environment in tissues through influx of cells involved in tissue repair (as a result of increase in blood flow)
  • Like cold therapy, heat therapy may provide pain relief
  • Increase in flexibility

Ice or cold packs are usually most effective on fresh injuries (within the first two to three days after a traumatic injury) since they reduce pain and swelling. Ice may also be required for flare-ups of chronic conditions. Cold or ice packs should be applied several times per day for up to 15 minutes at a time. If you're using ice, never apply it directly to the skin. Ice packs should be covered with a towel or cloth before application.

Heat therapy, in contrast, is most often recommended for chronic, long-term ailments, including muscle tightness and tension. Muscle aches are one type of complaint that often improves with heat therapy. Like cold packs, heat therapy should be applied for no longer than 15 minutes at a time and may be used several times per day. After four or five days following a traumatic injury, heat therapy may help the healing process. Heat therapy may be administered by using moist warm towels, microwaveable heating packs or bean bags, or electric heating pads. If you're using an electric heating pad, take extra care that you do not fall asleep on the pad, since this can lead to serious injury.

It's important to remember that home care is not a substitute for care provided by your physician. In the case of serious injury, always seek treatment in an emergency care facility. You should also visit your doctor if you have You should call a health professional if you experience severe pain, swelling, or numbness, joint instability, the inability to bear weight on a limb, or any other symptoms which you consider alarming.

Last Editorial Review: 5/7/2007