The Do’s and Don’ts of Icing and Heating
There’s a bit more to treating an injury than just slapping some ice cubes or a heating pad on it. It requires a bit of TLC, having the right equipment on hand and quick action.
Ice. Rao suggests using an ice pack or frozen veggie bag that is wrapped in a thin cloth or a few paper towels because placing anything frozen directly on the skin could cause frostbite. Plan on 20-minute icing sessions every hour within 24 to 48 hours of an acute injury. To keep the ice in place, try wrapping plastic wrap around the ice pack over the injured area.
Heat. There are two types of heat: moist and dry. Moist heat can come in the form of a hot shower, hot towel or moist heating pad. If using a heating pad, Rao says it is important for safety reasons not to fall asleep with it — this could lead to burning your skin or even starting a fire. Again, you’ll want to limit usage to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Drugstores carry adhesive heating pads that allow for mobility while treating your injury.
Precautions. If there is broken skin, sign of infection or you are not sure where the pain is coming from (i.e., left shoulder pain without an injury could be coming from the heart), it’s best to seek medical attention instead of self-treating. Also, those with decreased sensation because of nerve issues, like diabetics who have peripheral neuropathy, cannot perceive temperature well, so they are at risk for cold or heat injury.
“I use a variety of treatments to help patients get back on their feet after injury using a whole-person approach,” Rao says. “Injury is common, so don’t be discouraged when it occurs.”