Heat or Ice: Which is Best?

We've all been there. You injure your knee, or maybe your shoulder. Ice will help. Or...maybe it was heat?

How do we know when to use ice and when to use heat? A good phrase to remember is this: "blood flows where heat goes." In other words, if you want to promote blood flow and keep things moving, heat is the answer. On the other hand, if inflammation or swelling is an issue, ice is the way to go.

Movement is important because that's what joints are designed to do, but injured joints and tendons are often difficult to move because of pain. Dr. Andrew Morris says that for any injured joint or tendon, one wants to promote blood flow prior to exercise with heat. As the muscles, tendons and joints heat up, blood flow increases and makes exercise a little easier. "After you're done," says Dr. Morris, "you'll want to use ice for any pain or inflammation, and to restrict bloodflow."

Dr. Morris suggests that a typical regimine might be to begin with a hot shower or heat pack, then follow with some dynamic stretches. What's a dynamic stretch? Think of swinging your leg foward and backward when you're standing upright. Dynamic stretches use movement or momentum of the limbs or trunk to move the muscles between their extremes of range. Dynamic stretches are controlled movements and should never be vigorous or bouncy at the end of range.

Following the dynamic stretches, according to Dr. Morris, one should do static stretches. These are stretches that are done while the body is at rest. A static stretch is composed of various techniques that gradually lengthen a muscle to an elongated postiion (just to the point of discomfort) and then held for anywhere between 15-120 seconds.

Once you've completed your static stretches, it's then time for the ice. Because ice restricts bloodflow, it works to reduce inflammation and pain.

As always, if you are experiencing prolonged pain in any joint or muscle, we would love to evaluate you and help get you on the road to recovery. Give us a call at 256-236-4121 for an appointment with one of our orthopaedic surgeons.


Anniston Orthopaedic Associates, P.A., is conveniently located in the Tyler Center on the campus of Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center.  Our office is on the third floorwith easy access to the parking deck attached to the north side of the building.

731 Leighton Avenue, Suite 300
Anniston, Alabama 36207

Phone: 256-236-4121
Fax: 256-237-5254

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