Dr. Anthony explains when it is appropriate to ice or heat a sports injury.
You know, that’s a real common question that I get is with any type of sports injury I get calls, “Well, should I ice it? Should I heat it? Should I ice it for 24 hours and then heat it? Should I ice it for 48 hours and then heat it?” And there’s all different aspects of that, and here’s what we usually tell folks is that what the ice does is the ice reduces the inflammation around that injury. It reduces the muscle spasm and after about 10 or 15 minutes the body knows it needs to get blood to that area so it dilates the deeper blood vessels. So ice is like a poor man’s ultrasound. It actually increases the deep circulation to where that injury is, whether it’s in the elbow, the knee or the low back.
So for that aspect, ice we use for any type of a sports injury, and we use it initially. We use it Day 2, Day 7, Day 10; whenever there’s pain there, then we use that ice. We tend not to use the heat any more in a sports injury because heat brings fluid to that area, but that fluid is in the what we call the third space. So it actually swells up that area which is counter-productive to the healing of that injury.
Now there are some conditions that feel better with heat and feel worse with ice, and in some people where when you put ice on there, it actually makes it worse. If that’s the case or if you have a hypersensitivity to ice, then ice is not for you, and you can use the heat, but my caution with heat is that usually it feels better when you heat it, but then eight hours later it’s feeling worse. And the reason is that heat brings more circulation there it feels better, but then once you take it off, all that swelling in the third space causes discomfort.
About Dr. Anthony, M.D.:
Dr. Anthony joined our practice in 1987 and is Board Certified in Family Practice and Sports Medicine. He is a Team Physician for the US Olympic Training Center, San Diego Christian College and Santa Fe Christian High School. He is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, adjunct professor at San Diego State University, and the primary care physician for the Alvarado Spine Institute.