When it comes to thermal therapy, many of us get confused when we should use ice or heat and why we are using a specific type. Icing is very effective for decreasing blood circulation to a specific area, which helps decrease inflammation. Icing is also very good at decreasing pain. This is because pain and temperature travel on the same tract in the spine (spinothalamic tract), so decreasing temperature will decrease pain. The following are some times that you would want to use ice:

  • The first 3-5 days after an injury such as an ankle sprain
  • Directly after physical activity such as working out or playing a sport
  • Headaches

When icing, there are four stages that need to occur in order to get the desired effect of icing. These stages are:

  1. Cooling
  2. Burning
  3. Aching
  4. Numbing

Although we must get numb to get these desired effects, it is possible to ice for too long. Icing for periods over 20 minutes will cause what is known as the Hunting Reaction. The Hunting Reaction states that icing for over 20 minutes consecutively will cause increased blood flow to an area, resulting in an effect similar to that of applying heat. This could be very bad because this can create more inflammation, the exact thing you are trying to have less of. So remember when icing, no more than 20 minutes at a time, until the area is numb, and only once per hour.

by Travis Helmers, DC