Friday, 12 October 2012

Ice or Heat?

Question #1: "Ice or Heat? Which is better after a massage therapy treatment?"

The simple answer is Ice.

There, that was easy than I thought, see you next week!

Oh, wait, I should probably explain it a little more.

After a massage therapy treatment, especially one that leaves you feeling a little sore, it's a good idea to spend some time with an ice pack. The reason for that is that any kind of focused manipulation of soft tissue (a.k.a. massage therapy) can trigger an inflammatory response. The area will be sore, red, warm, and maybe a little swollen. And ice is a great tool for reducing inflammation.

What should I use?
A frozen gel pack is the most common therapeutic ice application. They're pretty cheap and available at drug stores, grocery stores, sports stores, etc. If you don't have one and need something right away, you can use ice cubes (in a towel or plastic bag), frozen food (peas are good - but you probably won't want to eat them after), or a dry towel that's been in the freezer for a few hours. If there's no freezer around, a cold-water compress can also be very effective.

How do I use it?
Wrap your ice pack in a towel, (never let it come in direct contact with the skin) and apply it to the affected area for 15 minutes. Remove and leave it off for 20-30 minutes then reapply. 
If you follow this on/off cycle, you'll reduce swelling and control pain without risking tissue damage from prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures.

What about heat?
Heat is very good for chronic problems, dull aches, joint pain, tired muscles, etc.
Moist heat is best; use a hot water bottle or heat up a gel pack or wet towel in the microwave. (If you use an electric heating pad, make sure it's a moist heat pad meant for therapeutic use.)
Probably the easiest heat application is a hot bath or shower. If you have sore muscles in the morning, spend a extra minute or two under a hot shower and let the water warm-up the tissue. (You can also do some light stretching while you're there).
Don't put heat on something that's already swollen, or showing other signs of inflamation, (redness, warmth, sharp pain, loss of function). It will just make the area more inflamed. And don't lie on heat source, always have it laying on you.

Heat is also good to use before your massage therapy treatment.

What if I have a low tolerance for cold/heat?
Then use whatever feels most comfortable to you. If you're told to use ice, but you can't stand the cold, then you're probably not going to use anything. So, it's better to control the pain with heat, even if it's not the best application for the situation, than to use nothing and suffer needlessly.

The use of cold or hot water for therapeutic effect is called hydrotherapy and it has many more uses than just ice packs and hot water bottles. I'll have more to say about that in future posts.

If you want to read up on the subject, try Laurel Fowlie's book An Introduction to Heat & Cold as TherapyIt's a reader-friendly textbook with a lot of good information.

I hope that was helpful for you. Comments or questions are always welcome.

Keep Moving.
Dave Campbell RMT

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