“What are you doing, at home, to relieve your pain?” This is a question I ask to all of my patients. These are the answers that I frequently get: “Nothing. I don’t want to take medication and don’t know what else will help.” or “I thought about putting ice or heat but I just don’t know which one I am supposed to apply.”
One of my goals during a first visit is for the patient to leave the clinic with confidence that they will be able to control their pain with resources available in their home. Effective pain control strategies at home are important as they can increase your feeling of self-efficacy, help you maintain an active lifestyle, reduce limitations in your daily activities and facilitate your recovery. Being aware of these strategies can be useful when our services are limited, like during the weekend or even during a global pandemic.
So first off, ice or heat?
Ice is often very effective on hot, swollen, and painful joints. It is mostly applied in the first 48 to 72 hours following a fresh injury (with a clear mechanism of injury and obvious signs of inflammation). Ice will numb the pain and restrict blood flow to the area to reduce swelling. Application of ice can be done with Gel packs, ice cubes/crushed ice, snow or bag of frozen vegetables.
Heat is often very effective to decrease pain, muscle soreness, muscle tightness and stiff joints. Heat is useful after the acute phase of an injury because it increases blood flow to the area bringing oxygen and nutrients to help tissue healing. Application of heat can be done with a bean bag, electric heating pad, hot water bottle or even a hot bath.
Recommended application of ice or heat: Apply 15-20 minutes on painful area. Heat and ice can be applied multiples times in a day. Make sure you wait 1-2 hours in between applications – this allows the skin and other tissues to return to their regular temperature and prevent adverse reactions.
- Always have a layer of cloth (i.e. a towel) between your skin and the source of heat or cold.
- Never apply heat or ice to an area that has very poor or no sensation.
- Never apply ice to an area that has poor circulation.
- Do not fall asleep on heating pads!
There is no clear-cut, black and white answer to this question as many unrelated factors to the injury can help us make the decision between ice or heat. The bottom line is: use what relieves you best.
What else can you use to relieve your pain at home?
- Most of us have hot/cold rubs (i.e. Biofreeze, Medistick, RubA535) that can be applied to the area of pain.
- If you have a TENS unit at home – talk to your physiotherapist, they will show you where to apply the electrodes for your injury.
Still unsure or have questions? Contact your physiotherapist at PhysioFirst/Capture therapeutics.