Icing a sports injury

Sports injuries: Treat with ice or heat?

How do you know when to use heat and when to use ice on a sports injury? This question is best answered by taking into account the type of injury: acute or chronic.

Acute injury

An acute injury is one that has occurred within the last 48 hours. Symptoms of this type of injury could include pain, tenderness, red skin and swelling.

After an acute injury, such as an ankle sprain, ice is recommended. The ice will decrease swelling, pain, inflammation and muscle cramping.

Apply ice immediately after the injury and continue to ice it in 20 minute increments, four to eight times per day, for 48 hours. If you're using an ice pack that doesn't have real ice inside, place a thin towel between the pack and the skin.

Chronic injury

A chronic injury usually develops slowly as a result of overuse or an improperly healed acute injury. Pain from these injuries usually comes in the form of soreness, stiffness or dull pain.

Heat is great for getting relief from chronic injuries like sore muscles or joint pain because it increases blood flow and flexibility.

It's a good idea to use a hot towel or heating pad to warm up stiff muscles and relax injuries before a workout. Like ice, heat should not be applied for longer than 20 minutes at a time.

If symptoms of your acute or chronic injury persists and/or interfere with daily activities, consult a doctor.

Walk-in clinic

Area student athletes and weekend warriors have a new option for recent sports and orthopedic injuries - no appointment needed! Community's walk-in clinic provides medical care for common musculoskeletal injuries like sprains, strains, joint injuries and fractures.