An ice pack around an injured foot.

Do I Use Ice or Heat?

An ice pack around an injured foot.It’s one of the most common debates in the injury management circle: do you put on ice or heat? Some providers have very strong opinions, while others don’t care so much. So what is the East Asian medicine view?

East Asian medicine holds one of the strong viewpoints, and it’s summed up in the proverb ‘ice is for dead people’. In the East Asian view, all health is dependent on a smooth flow of qi and blood in the body. Ice restricts circulation, so it should never be used. If there is an acute injury use compression for swelling, gentle movement to ease pain and increase mobility, and once the initial burst of inflammation has passed on, heat the injury site to promote circulation. If you live near an acupuncturist, go for a treatment to speed your healing.

So why have medical professionals been encouraging ice for so long? For acute injury, ice seems natural because acute inflammation presents with redness, heat, and swelling. Applying ice tends to eliminate the heat, numb pain, and can reduce some of the swelling. Much of the development of Western medicine has been for treating traumatic injury, and the use of ice crept from that area of medicine to an easy at-home prescription for pain management.

The unfortunate truth of managing pain this way is that ice reduces circulation to the injury site, as already noted. What’s more, the inflammation that the body produces for an acute injury is needed to start the healing process, so adding ice cuts down on recovery time not just because it halts circulation, but also because it impedes the inflammatory process. Ultimately the use of ice, especially in the long-term, is self-defeating.

So does that mean heat should always be applied? In most cases, yes. In acute injury heat should be avoided because adding heat to a highly inflamed area will exacerbate the pain. But as the swelling starts to go down heat can be safely used.

Not certain heat is right for you? Have an injury that stubbornly refuses to heal? Schedule your appointment today and let us help you out!