A common question in the office is, “I twisted my ankle and now it is swollen, should I use cold or heat?”
The standard answer is cold for a new injury and heat for soreness that has been around for awhile. If you decide to go ahead with the cold, make sure you are getting the benefit you need.
Cold therapy should be a bit uncomfortable. If you can sit with a cold pack for half and hour or more, then you may be doing something wrong. Therapeutic cold should take you through a few stages. First you will just feel “cold”. Next you may notice some “burning” followed by an “ache”. When the part you are icing starts to get “numb” it is time to take the ice off. Generally this is about 10-15 minutes. A good way to ensure that you are getting the “cold” you need is to place a damp cloth between the ice/cold pack and your skin.
Cold therapy tries to reduce swelling and decrease blood flow to the injured area so that the pain is more tolerable. Less blood flow = less inflammation & less pain chemicals. Yes, some studies have also shown that adding heat to an injury can increase the blood flow and may speed up healing, however, ice is still usually the first line of defense.
*This information is used for educational purposes only and not intended as medical advice.