Many of the musculoskeletal conditions that you may consult an osteopath about can benefit from simple home treatments, like icing or the application of heat packs. However, it is always important to seek appropriate medical advice, as incorrect application of ice or heat to an injury or condition can worsen the problem.
What is inflammation?
When our body is injured or infected, the immune system triggers something called the inflammatory response. The inflammatory response, or inflammation, serves to fight disease, repair injury and clear away damaged cells and tissues and is critical for recovery from illness and injury. However, excessive or chronic inflammation can cause scarring and can often cause more pain and discomfort than the initial injury.
Pain, swelling/bruising, redness and heat at the site of in jury are indicators of inflammation at the site of an injury.
When to ice
Icing an injury reduces blood flow to the area and curbs excessive inflammation. It can also help numb the sensation of pain and reduce swelling, all of which facilitate gradual implementation of stretches and other rehabilitation exercises that ultimately aid in the recovery of an injury.
Generally, injuries that display symptoms of inflammation – pain, swelling, bruising, redness and heat – will benefit from icing to the injured area.
When to apply heat
In contrast to icing, applying heat to an area increases blood flow to the warmed area. Heat and increased blood flow can help in situations where there is no inflammation or acute injury, but muscles feel tense, stiff or aching. For example, a stiff neck from sitting at a computer for prolonged periods, or aching muscles after a long day of cleaning or gardening.
Application of heat can also be beneficial in chronic conditions where increased blood flow may help stimulate recovery. However, if in doubt, do NOT apply heat.
When to seek advice
If you have injured yourself, or have ongoing pain, the only way to be sure what treatment is best for you is to see a qualified health professional. Your osteopath can help diagnose and identify the cause of your pain and advise upon the best course of treatment and management.