You just hurt your back (or ankle, knee, shoulder, elbow, etc), and if you’re like most people, you’re wondering what to use – heat or cold? The best rule of thumb for a recent injury, known as the acute stage of care, is to apply COLD in the form of ice.
THE ACUTE PHASE OF INJURY
In this phase, the injured area will likely feel warm, swollen, painful to contact and/or with movement and has developed a localized muscle spasm. This initial phase will only last about 24 to 48 hours, when ice therapy is immediately applied, to reduce inflammation and allow healing to progress. For maximum benefit, ice needs to be applied at least five times over a 24-hour period, with at least one hour in between for circulation to resume before starting the next ice treatment.
SENSATIONS OF ICE THERAPY
If the area in question is allowed to become cold enough, you will feel a numbing or analgesic effect. This is the ultimate goal of ice therapy. The normal sequence of sensations with ice therapy are as follows:
1. Initially the ice will feel cold, then you’ll feel burning – like the area is one fire.
2. The burning sensation will be followed by aching, which only lasts a minute.
3. Finally, you should feel the sensation of numbness (where you can’t feel the ice anymore).
Staying within these general time lines is a safe bet. The old saying, “a little is good, therefore a lot is better,” DOES NOT APPLY HERE! If ice is left on too long, it will increase swelling and make the condition worse. After the acute phase has passed, the other phases of healing can begin. Unfortunately, I have seen patients 12 months, post-injury who still have swelling and local muscle spasms because they forgot to apply ice and take the injury through the acute phase of care.
I use polar packs (gel filled) at my office for any part of the back- they are large and mold to your body, which is helpful when you’re in pain!
A frozen water bottle is also helpful for foot injuries like plantar fascitis- roll it under your foot where the pain is.
*DO-IT-YOURSELF ICE PACKS* (Notes from the editors of The Intel)
Additional ideas for homemade ice packs straight out of the freezer include: frozen orange juice cans (also great for rolling underfoot and under tight hamstrings or glutes) and bags of frozen peas or corn. But if you want to make an inexpensive, moldable ice pack with household items, you can mix one part rubbing alcohol with three parts water in a ziplock bag and stick it in the freezer. According to Lifehacker, you can even freeze dishwashing liquid soap in a Ziplock bag to make a flexible ice pack.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marin L. Kokin is a California licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, and a National Diplomate in acupuncture and Chinese herbology, board-certified through the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Ms. Kokin is also certified through the American Acupuncture Academy in Acupuncture Orthopedics, and a National Diplomate in Acupuncture Orthopedics. Ms. Kokin’s practice is unique and distinctive. She specializes in infertility and pregnancy as well as orthopedics and pain management. This includes musculoskeletal and gynecological/obstetric pain, pre and post operative rehabilitation, and injury rehabilitation. She also treats many internal medicine conditions such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, gynecological conditions, and the side effects from chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Treatments include acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, acupressure, myofacial release, Chinese herbal prescriptions, massage therapy, nutrition counseling, stretching exercises, and cold/heat therapy.