“Should I use ice or heat to help with my pain?” is a question I receive from a variety of patients many times a week. These patients are often searching for an alternative to pain medication, which can be expensive and even addictive for some. The use of ice and heat is a cheap, usually low-risk option that can be effective for pain management. However, many patients are confused about which modality to use in different situations.

In general, ice is used to calm down swollen or inflamed tissue immediately after an injury. Swelling is your body’s natural response to injury – the inflammatory process is a healthy, normal, but often painful process that causes damaged tissue to become red and swollen. Unfortunately, local swelling can also lead to compression of nearby tissues, which causes further discomfort. Using ice, we can reduce the pain of inflammation without having to resort to drugs. Cold should only be applied locally, and it should never be used for more than 20 minutes at a time, although patients often say they ice for longer periods of time than that. Over-icing can cause frostbite, and patients with decreased sensation or neuropathy should especially take caution. Exactly how long and how often a patient should ice an injury depends on a variety of factors that a physical therapist can assess, but generally for the first 72 hours after an injury it can be iced at least 3 times per day for 10 to 15 minutes each time. After 72 hours, some people will respond better to heat, and they can try using heat to alleviate pain and promote healing.

In contrast to ice, heat should be used for muscle issues, chronic pain, and stress. Applying heat to an area of the body increases blood supply, stimulates elimination of toxins, and relaxes stiffness and soreness to bring relief. It is often used on an ongoing injury just before exercise, and it is typically more effective than ice for treating muscle spasms, low back pain, and neck pain. Heat is usually more soothing to the nervous system and the mind than ice, and it often helps relieve pain from a chronic injury. When applying heat, be sure to protect yourself from direct contact with the heating source by wrapping it with a towel to prevent burns, stay hydrated, and make sure not to fall asleep on a heating pad. Generally, heat should be applied 1-3 times a day for 10-15 minutes at a time – however, if heat is added too early in the healing process it can perpetuate the inflammation cycle and be harmful for the body.

Ultimately, the decision to use heat or ice is up to you. Your body might respond differently to heat or ice, so try different variations of both treatments to determine which ones you find most effective. If you have recently been injured and are dealing with pain, a physical therapist can evaluate you and help you to determine an appropriate course of action for treatment. Contact your local Foothills Sports Medicine’s Phoenix physical therapy clinic today if you have more questions about pain management and treatment modalities!

Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy is a group of locally owned AZ physical therapy clinics that believe in a hands-on, individualized approach to patient care. Our staff is dedicated to helping each individual achieve the best results possible, and you can schedule a free consultation with them online here. For more information about AZ physical therapy, follow our blog.

Jim Kostrewa received his master’s degree in physical therapy from Midwestern University and has since been certified in ASTYM and Kinesiotape. During his 17-year career as a functional therapist, Jim has treated a wide variety of different injuries, which can often be exacerbated by underlying conditions. He is here to explain how to avoid a simple, yet potentially dangerous condition: dehydration.

Dehydration in seniors is common, and while we know to be aware of this during the hot summer months, it is just as dangerous in cold weather.

Normally dehydration occurs when the body has lost too many fluids and electrolytes, which are mineral compounds the body needs to regulate temperature and keep a healthy fluid balance.

While you might not be sweating in the winter, cold weather constricts blood vessels to conserve heat in your core organs. Oddly enough, this makes you less thirsty and can lead to you drinking less water.

Dehydration may only cause small (sometimes telltale) symptoms, but it can have a large effect on the body, especially for seniors. Severe dehydration in the elderly can be fatal, and commonly leads to hospitalization. Those at the highest risk of dehydration are individuals who do not drink enough water, or sweat frequently or severely.

Dehydration can also be experienced as a side effect of medications such as diuretics or laxatives. It can also be caused by medical problems including diarrhea, vomiting, heat stroke, high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), infections, or excessive exercise.

Signs of dehydration in seniors may include:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness or headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Inability to sweat or produce tears
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low urine output
  • Constipation

Tips to Prevent Dehydration:

  • Have an appropriate amount of fluids daily. For most people, this means more than 8 glasses of water, plus the fluids you get from your foods.
  • Keep track of how much water you’re drinking. Drink water with each meal, between meals, and before, during, and after exercise.
  • Check body weight regularly. Fluctuations of 2-3 lbs. per day may indicate irregular fluid intake.
  • Avoid being in the hot sun for long periods of time and ensure extra hydration for longer exposure.
  • Include healthy foods in your diet that have a high water content, such as broths or soups, fruit juice, soft fruits, and vegetables. Many of these foods also contain sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes that help regulate your hydration levels.
  • Remember to hydrate in cold weather. Sweat evaporates quicker in cold air, and all that vapor in your breath that’s visible can lead to winter dehydration.
  • Most importantly, keep a water bottle on hand and next to your bed or favorite chair, and try to drink often!

As with most illnesses, prevention is the key. Staying hydrated now is much easier than treating dehydration later. For more information about how you can stay healthy, contact your local Foothills AZ physical therapy clinic!