Inflammation? Should you use heat or ice? This is a fascinating topic/question, and patients don’t know what to do- HEAT OR ICE. I’m going to explain this in DEFINITIVE terms, so that, forever after, you’ll know, and remember, why and when to use either. In fact, I think I need to make a video on this topic, so watch for it.
First, some basic science. You might remember, from science class, that the definition of “temperature” is “average kinetic energy”. What does that mean? Temperature is, literally, the measurement of the average rate of the movement of molecules- how fast the molecules are moving.
Inflammation is a chemical process. Like all chemical processes, the extent of the chemical process is proportional to the temperature. If the temperature is higher, you will generate more inflammation.
Now, a couple of more essential themes to understand. Inflammation is a chemical process in the body, that is comprised of 4 essential components; redness, heat, swelling and pain. Sometimes, loss of function is also present.
If you have an injury, or an exacerbation of symptoms from an injury, you can, reasonably, infer that inflammation is present. And in order to reduce the inflammation, you should decrease the temperature with ICE, not increase the inflammation with HEAT.
Sometimes people will put heat on their painful lesion and actually make it worse, perpetuating their pain, and making it a chronic problem. So it is usually a mistake to put heat on a painful lesion, i.e. bodypart. In fact, if you put heat on a painful, inflamed lesion, then you may provoke muscle spasm in response. You should know that muscle tightness or spasm is NOT the cause of pain, usually. It is simply an effort of the body to protect an injury. Most people misconstrue muscle spasm as the primary source of pain. It is not, usually. It is simply a response to injury. So treat the underlying problem, and the spasm will go away.
When is heat safe to use? If you have NOT had a recent injury, and you have NOT done anything significant to injure the area, then heat may be safe. However, I do recommend that you try using ice for your pain. You might be surprised to find out it is more effective for your pain.