Can Alternating Ice & Heat Speed Recovery?

Can Alternating Ice & Heat Speed Recovery?

By Heather "Feather" Poast


Ever suffered a minor injury that prevented you from getting out there and enjoying the activities you love?  Something like a sprained ankle, sore knee or tweaked back can really ruin your day.  I know this first hand from a sprained ankle that nearly prevented me from going on a long awaited ski trip that I desperately wanted to go on.

After hurting my ankle and being worried about missing the trip, I got some advice from an orthopedic surgeon friend of mine to alternate ice and heat to try and speed up recovery.  With some skepticism I gave this a try and it ended up working like a gem.  My sprained ankle healed quickly and I was able to make the trip and rock the slopes!

Alternating ice and heat on a minor injury can speed recovery.  

Immediately after an injury, muscle soreness occurs as tissues are overstretched or torn.  Bleeding and swelling often occur inside and around your muscle. Applying ice after an injury causes constriction of the blood vessels, decreasing blood flow to the area and therefore limiting swelling and inflammation.

In contrast, heating increases the blood flow to the injured muscle or joint to soothe the pain, reduce stiffness and improve flexibility.  When used in conjunction with ice, it creates a sort of pumping mechanism and you can reduce pain by lowering inflammation and soothing muscles simultaneously.  The ice temporarily shocks the muscles in pain while the heat loosens and relaxes.

Alternating ice and heat is believed to be best implemented in injuries right after they occur.  It is not recommended to be used as a long term treatment.  Most physicians recommend using ice first.  You can ice for 5-10 minutes and then heat for 5-10 minutes using ice and/or heat packs or baths.  Do this for 30-40 minutes per session and do not exceed 10 minutes of continuous heating or icing.

Never place the source of heat or ice directly on the skin.  Be sure to have something such as a towel, cloth or cover between the ice or heat and your skin.  This will prevent you from damaging the skin and causing further injury.  As always, getting the advice of a doctor before trying this method is recommended.  And depending on the injury and severity, further medical treatment may be necessary.

So the next time you have suffer a minor injury that might hold you back from the things you enjoy doing, why not give this method a try? It’s a cheap and natural way to help speed up the healing process and get you back out there!

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Heather "Feather" Poast is a 500 hour trained yoga instructor, personal trainer, ultra-marathon runner and chef.