Recently, We’ve had a few patients inquire about heating versus icing of injuries. We wanted to take a moment to share a good article we found that really breaks it down.
In a nut shell; there is a difference between an acute injury, and a chronic injury. Understanding the differnce between the two will help to ensure whether heat or ice is appropriate for your injury. An acute injury is one that comes on suddenly and has an obvious reason for pain. It is usually visibly swollen and bruised. A chronic injury, however, can be slow to develop and more subtle in pain. It is harder to recognize what the pain is caused by in a chronic situation, and may be from over-use and usually feels more like stiffness or soreness.
In cold therapy, using ice is the best treatment for acute injuries as it reduces swelling and pain. Icing a chronic injury, like knee pain, as a lot of athletes do after running, can be used to treat with ice as well.
Heat therapy is generally used for chronic injuries; injuries that have no inflammation or swelling. Muscle stiffness, soreness or nagging is ideal for heat therapy. You use heat before exercise to increase circulation and loosen up the muscles, then ice afterward for best results.
Refer to the following article for more detailed information: http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/rehab/a/heatorcold.htm