Injuring your ankle can be a major setback, whether it’s a sprained ankle, twist or fracture. It leaves you feeling stiff, sore, and swollen. Ultimately, affecting your quality of life and ability to get back to the activities you love. Ice and heat are both simple, effective, economical treatments you can use to gain an upper hand in your recovery process. Not sure when to use ice or heat for an injured ankle? Keep reading to learn more.
Ice is a quick and easy initial step to managing pain and swelling. If you are unsure of the severity of your injury, you may want to see a doctor first. Otherwise, ice can be an immediate first step to preventing unnecessary swelling. It is also an ideal option for managing pain and swelling that can get slightly worse when you begin (and progress) an exercise program.
There are actually three steps of “cold” you need to go through to achieve therapeutic pain and swelling relief. These are (1) aching, (2) burning, and (3) numbness. You must endure the first two steps to get to the numbing benefits of ice. Here are some general rules for ice application:
When you apply ice to a specific area, it constricts the blood vessels in the area. This temporarily pushes fluid out of the area and keeps new fluid from returning to better control swelling. The numbness associated with ice also relieves pain. Excessive pain and swelling can lead to a poor cycle of ankle dysfunction. Thus, ice is a great way to keep this entire issue under control and you feel more comfortable.
Simply remove it from the freezer and place it where it is needed. A wrap will provide compression for additional pain and swelling management.
It provides a soothing and cooling sensation on the skin specifically for temporary pain management.
Most often, water is frozen in a paper cup and then rubbed directly on the injured area for 5-10 minutes.
This machine circulates ice water through a sleeve specifically designed for the ankle joint. Typically, compression is added to provide additional swelling management.
Placing the foot and ankle in a bucket or tub of freezing cold water can address large areas all at once.
Heat is generally a more agreeable treatment option for any injury when it is a possibility. Heat can be applied throughout the recovery process. The only time it is not recommended, is when excessive swelling is present or within the first few hours to days of an injury (depending on severity). It can be used before and after exercise and treatment to help with pain, stiffness, and stress management.
For most people, heat feels great. It increases blood flow to help speed the healing process. Additionally, it decreases stiffness and promotes relaxation. It can also help promote better sleep, an important part of the healing process. Plus, relaxation can help maximize tolerance for other treatment recovery options such as ankle range of motion and massage.
If you’ve ever traveled or lived somewhere with high humidity, you are probably aware of the way it magnifies the heat. Moist heat has been shown to get a few extra millimeters into the skin when applied. This can boost the potential benefits of relaxation and circulation. Some electric heating pads come with a moisture sleeve you can add (with caution). If you are treated in a clinic, such as with a physical therapist or chiropractor, they usually have a special type of moist heat to apply to your ankle to maximize the benefits.
These are typically heated in water or the microwave and placed where needed.
Simply plugin and set it at the level of warmth you want. Be sure to turn it off when you are done.
Fill the bottle with water at the desired temperature and enjoy.
Draw yourself a hot bath and relax the entire body. Or put warm water in a bucket just for your foot and ankle.
Promote circulation throughout the body with this relaxing form of dry heat.
Swelling is often demonized with a new injury due to the pain that occurs with it. However, swelling is actually a normal, even necessary, part of the healing process. It allows for the right cells to get into the injured area to start repairing. However, anyone that has experienced swelling knows that it can be very uncomfortable. Thus, ice can be used to better manage pain.
Alternating between ice and heat is a great way to maximize the circulatory benefits of both treatment options. Alternating between constriction and dilation of the blood vessels in the ankle can be very therapeutic for optimizing healing. The general rule of thumb is to alternate a few times throughout the day. If you have a newer injury or a lot of residual swelling, try to end with ice. Otherwise, you may choose to end with the more relaxing heat. It’s all about preference.
Cold and heat both require close attention to skin quality throughout treatment time. There is a risk of frostbite or burns if sensation is compromised or you don’t frequently check your skin quality. Here are some contraindications to be aware of when using ice or heat.
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