Twinges. Spasms. Stiffness. Aches. On any given day, the number of adults who are suffering from joint and muscle pain is huge. Half of those over age 65 report having ongoing knee, shoulder, and other joint-related pain. Many more report lower-back pain and some form of significant ongoing muscular discomfort. As the ranks of the aching increase, the confusion around whether to use a ‘hot water bag to alleviate the pain’ or ‘use an ice pack for relief’ has remained. Here’s a low down on when to use ice or heat on a muscle ache or injury:
When: Within 48 hours of a sudden injury or the reinjury of a chronic problem spot.
Ice cubes in a sealable bag, a bag of frozen peas, or a freezer pack made for icing injuries. Wrap in a small towel to avoid the damaging skin.
For How long:
Up to 10 minutes at a time, but stop sooner if your skin turns pink. Typically, you can reapply about 10 minutes after the end of the previous icing session.
Key Effects: Curtails swelling and reduces pain.
Don’t use ice if you have circulatory problems, blood flow issues, Diabetes, Raynaud’s syndrome or easily damaged skin.
More than 48 hours after a sudden injury or before starting an activity that may hurt a weak, frequently injured area. Also, heat is very good for comforting ARTHRITIC joints.
Use a heating pad set on low, a washcloth dipped in warm water, a single-use heat pack available at drugstores and designed for specific areas like your neck or lower back, or a reusable microwavable hot pack. Even a hot shower or a hot-wet towel applied to an achy joint can loosen it up.
For How long: 20 minutes at a time.
Key Effect: Draws blood to the area for nourishment, healing, and muscle relaxation.
If the heat causes pain, immediately remove it from your skin to prevent damage. The heat should feel comfortable and pleasant, not scalding.
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