I’ve regularly talked about how heat can relieve pain in muscles and joints, but also provide effective healing of soft tissue injuries.
For those have been following me here on the site or have read my book, will know that my #1 favourite way of providing effective deep heat is Far Infrared heat. By far the best healing heat to your body outside of the sun itself.
Scientific studies have shown that the safe, deep penetrating heat from far infrared heating pads, penetrate deep into joints and muscle tissue, warming you from the inside out.
Those typical heating pads on the market merely warm the surface of your skin. Hence I prefer to use FAR Infrared heating pads for my patients.
But from my years of clinical experience heat is not always the answer…
When Heat Is NOT Your Best Option
So here’s a quick guide to help you determine whether you should use heat or ice for pain.
As soon as you have an injury, your body responds with inflammation. We often talk about how chronic inflammation is bad and it is, but inflammation remains a crucial part of your body’s normal healing process for a new injury.
When you have an injury you likely will feel pain. Using ice will help to sooth the inflamed, swollen tissues which helps reduce the pain, but also the swelling accompanying a fresh injury.
In this case you would NOT want to put more heat to a locally hot and inflamed area, as this will only exaggerate your body’s response to the injury and increase the pain.
That’s why there is the protocol known as RICE:
- Rest the injured area
- Ice it
- Compression (such as with an Ace bandage wrap)
- Elevate the injured body part
When and How Long Should You Ice an Injury?
Ideally you want to begin icing within five minutes, following the injury.
From my clinical experience the best time frame is to leave the ice on for 15-20 minutes. If you feel the pain starts to increase whilst the ice is on, but not yet reached at least 15 minutes, take it off anyway.
It is also useful if you can, to allow the area to rest without ice for about 15 minutes. The first 48 to 72 hours following the injury, you should be repeating this process as often as you can. This will help to relieve swelling and inflammation pain as much as possible.
And as per RICE, don’t forget to allow the injured area to rest and recover, add compression and elevate an injury when possible.
When you encounter pain from a flare up of a previous injury, ice can also be very useful.
But before you run off to the freezer…
Wait! There Are Bad Times to Use Ice!
Not only can heat be bad at certain times, there are also times when ice may do more harm than good. Or at least create more pain.
One of those times you should not to use ice is when you are NOT dealing with an actual injury.
Ice is great at reducing swelling and inflammation.
But apply ice to muscle cramp (not an injury such as a muscle tear) or an aching back, caused by overly tight muscles and potentially those muscles may further contract...
...and create a lot more pain!
So before icing, know how to tell the difference between an injury such as a strain (torn muscle) or sprain (joint), as opposed to a nasty muscle cramp or trigger point pain.If you recognize these symptoms, use the RICE protocol above.
When Heat Is the Right Choice
For muscle spasms, chronic pain and other non-immediate injuries, use heat. Heat relaxes tight muscles whereas cold tends to lead to further contraction.
More often than not, neck and back pain isn’t caused by an injury such as a torn muscle. Instead, it’s more likely a muscle ache or possibly an irritated nerve caused by longstanding muscle imbalances.
When in doubt whether you’ve actually experienced an injury as described above, try heat first. When dealing with chronic pain, heat usually wins the day over cold.
If In Doubt... Try Both Heat and Ice!
Pain is a subjective experience, because what works for one may not work for somebody else. So it is always good to try both...
If cold or heat makes your pain worse, it’s perfectly acceptable to try the opposite.
My advice on choosing either heat or cold therapy will work in the majority of cases, but if it doesn’t for you, experiment to find out what works best.
Also, many find alternating between heat and ice can be helpful following initial treatment. This can be especially effective at breaking a recurring cycle of muscle spasms.
For example, if you have severe cramp in your calf, apply heat and massage to help your muscle relax. Then alternate between an ice pack and heat to relieve soreness once the initial painful spasm has released. But start with heat to relieve the muscle cramp first.
Or if you sprained your ankle, use the RICE protocol to relieve pain and swelling. After a day or two of rest, ice, compression and elevation, you may find alternating heat and ice work well in speeding the healing process. But start with icing for the injury.
An injury is often recognized by localized, acute inflammation:
- Skin redness
- Swelling of the area
- Sensitive to touch
- Skin feels hot
How to Prepare for Injuries and Chronic Pain Alike
Ever heard of the words “Be Prepared.”
What I am trying to say is that it would be ideal to have something in the house that allows you to use either cold or heat as needed.
In my clinic I recommend to my patients to have the Jade Therapy Healing Far Infrared Heating Pad in the house.
The Jade Therapy Healing Pad is 21” wide by 31” long, which makes it perfect for wrapping around any ache or injury. It delivers deep, penetrating far infrared heat to soothe aching muscles and joints.
And because of its size it easily folds into its convenient travel case, allowing me to bring it with me wherever I go.
And here is the real beauty of this Jade Heating Pad. When you have an injury you want to use cold as I mentioned earlier and this is where the real secret is!
This Jade Far Infrared Pad does not only penetrate heat far deeper than any other ordinary heating pad…
The Jade Therapy Healing Far Infrared Heating Pad Doubles as a Cold Pack!
Due to its size it wraps easily around an injured leg, knee, shoulder or any other area. Therefore I store my Jade Healing Pad in the freezer, so I can use it as a cold pack when I need to.
If I overdo it during my gym workout or get a running injury, I simply get my jade cold pack from the freezer and wrap it around the injury.
It will make it so much easier to ice your bruised knee or ankle using this Pad instead of struggling with a bag of frozen peas...
Its 126 jade stones retain and transfer cold just like they retain and transfer far infrared heat.
Best of all, the convenient Velcro straps hold the cold… or heat… exactly where you need it.
Of course you can buy a larger model as it can work as a cold pack too, but the smaller Jade Healing Pad can applied to a specific injury plus it’s small enough to fit in most freezers.
Those moments I may need heat, all I have to do is to plug it in and turn it up. It will only take minutes to get the deep, soothing heat I’m looking for.
This all-in-one device serves up both heat therapy and cold therapy.
Now that’s what I call relief!