Using Heat And Cold As Therapy For Inflammation. Which Is Best?


I’m going to answer a question today that many people ask me on a regular basis. I thought I’d take a time out to help you out. My whole purpose here is to help you take better care of yourself at home. I’m Dr. Brendon Gibb, with Springbok Wellness, and today we’re going to be talking about something kind of simple, but it makes a big difference to you.

So, let’s imagine that you’re attending your favorite team’s basketball game. You’ve got prime seats. You and a loved one are there. You’re having a really good time. You’re right in the middle of this amazing play, and your idol, your favorite basketball player, gets completely taken out. I mean he’s on the ground groaning. It’s not fake news. It’s completely awesome. It gets the crowd incredibly excited, but he’s really hurt.


So, out comes the stretcher and all the paramedics and they’re fussing over him. Let me ask you this. If you’re watching carefully, do they run on with an extension cord and heating pads or do they run on with ice packs? Well, the answer to that is, ice packs. The question people keep posing to me over the year is this. “Dr. Gibb, should I use ice or should I use heat?” And invariably most of them, interestingly enough, want to use heat when they get hurt. If you twist a knee or a back or an elbow, or anything that’s hurting that bad after a fall or a strain or a sprain, don’t put heat on it. If you put heat on it, you’re going to make it worse. Let me explain a little bit.

Heat relaxes the muscles, but it has a tendency to increase the inflammation. Even the word inflammation has flame in the middle of it, in-flame-ation. So, when you have an injury, oh my word, don’t put heat on it, put ice on it. Now, ice has a way of contracting the muscles and tissues and reducing the inflammation, which really helps out. Maybe it doesn’t feel as comfortable, but it’s going to help reduce that inflammation, which is one of the reasons why the body is tightening up the muscles, to guard itself from further injury.

Now, some things about ice. Ice is not to be used directly on the skin, because if you have sensitive skin, or it’s on there for too long for example, you could hurt yourself with frostbite. I’m particularly mentioning some of those cases where some folks have these machines where there is continuous cold water flowing through the area. If those folks take a nap or fall asleep on that machine, it could really hurt them.

I like the gel packs. These gel packs over here, they give a complete uniform coldness to the area. If you use frozen peas or some other vegetable, you’ll only get little points on your body where it’s frozen, the skin is adequately calmed down. But in the areas between the spots where the frozen package does not touch the skin, it’s not being addressed. So, gel packs are good. And you can throw these in the freezer, and you can purchase them pretty much anywhere. I’m not necessarily selling this particular kind of ice pack, but gel pack is what you want. Sometimes you can get gel packs that you can heat and freeze. When you heat them, just read the instructions on there. Always be careful that when you are heating them, you’re using common sense, so you don’t hurt yourself.

Now, ice. How long should we use the ice for? Always be conservative, but a good rule of thumb is about 5-10 minutes to start. If it’s particularly bad, I personally recommend 15-20 minutes, and then take a break for about 10-15, and then do it again. Especially on the first day.

Sometimes folks will go ahead and use a cream. I happen to use Sombra in my office, simply because I like it, it’s a good response. Some folks use Tiger Balm or they use Biofreeze and they have all kinds of different creams. The cream is analgesic cream. It should be able to help with that.

If it’s not working you really should seek medical attention. What I’m talking about as far as using ice is, it’s going to help you in that first day or so.

We can’t really go into injuries in this kind of movie. We don’t have enough time. As far as the moist heat and the ice is concerned, always use ice, unless of course you’ve just crawled out of a frozen lake and then that would be dumb. Don’t use ice, then.

So when do you use moist heat? Well, moist heat is wonderful for relaxing muscles. Notice I said moist, not dry. Dry will just dry it out. The fancy word for that is desiccate. So if you think about it, if you go ahead, and you want a nice relaxing afternoon, do you want to go and bob around in the jacuzzi or do you want to stand under an industrial heating fan. You want those tissues to be moistened. Moist heat goes deeper and is way more therapeutic, so never use dry heat. They actually have moist heating pads out there. Just be careful with your heating pads folks, because some folks take a heating pad and then they think they put a moist towel in front of it, you could shock yourself depending on what it is. So, please use your common sense and don’t hurt yourself.

Moist heat. I like to do moist heat first and then follow it with ice. I usually will do this once again, after I’ve used ice for the first day or so. I would suggest when you hurt yourself you get attention fairly quickly, if you’ve got a lot of swelling in the area or of it’s blue and black. Get someone to look at it. Either your current chiropractor, or you’re friendly medical Doc down the street, but get someone to look at it and make sure you haven’t got something that’s more serious like a fracture or something else.

So, moist heat and ice. They’re your friends if used with wisdom and skill. Take care of yourself. I’ll talk to you next time.

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