Ice (cold) and Heat (warm) pack therapy are intended to relieve pain and bring a soothing relief to the patient. Applying the wrong pack is like giving the wrong medication. Not considering either of these when you should would amount to holding medication that should be given.
When should Heat or Ice Pack be applied to an injured part? Below are some practical principles of heat and cold therapies:
Ice pack is applied to new and acute injuries. Warm pack is applied to existing and ongoing injury. (An injury could be surgical or accidental).
Ice on the skin narrows the blood vessels preventing blood accumulation in the in injured part while heat dilates blood vessel encouraging blood flow to the injured part.
Ice prevents swelling and inflammation in the injured part while heat promotes blood flow to the area of the injury to enhance healing.
To prevent secondary damage to the injured part, ice should be used within the first 72 hours of sustaining the injury.
Ice should never be applied for longer than 20 minutes once an hour. The patient could sustain frostbite if left longer on the skin leading to skin, tissue or nerve damage.
For protection, it’s important to protect the skin with a layer of clothing materials before applying ice to the injured part.
Heat is also used to relieve muscle aches, stiff joints and pains. Heat therapy is also good for chronic pain that does not involve inflammation.
Ice or heat pack should not be used on patients with sensory deficits. People with certain health conditions should seek Doctor’s advice before using ice or heat therapy. These conditions include: Open wounds, Diabetes, Dermatitis, Vascular diseases, Deep vein thrombosis, heart disease and Multiple sclerosis (MS). In addition, cold therapy should not be used on patients with stiff joints.
Some experts cautioned against using ice and warm pack interchangeably on the same injured part. Knowing when and when not to use either of the two is the key. For instance, arthritic patients can benefit from both heat and cold therapy: Heat therapy is expected to address joint stiffness while cold therapy reduces swelling and acute pain.