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Fire or ice: How to know when to apply heat or ice to a sporting injury

Pain Relieving Spray

While many sportspeople know to apply ice immediately to an injury, there is more often than not some hesitation about when to apply heat to an affliction. But itís not such a delicate science, and a little bit of background knowledge about the types of sporting injuries that can occur goes a long, long way.

Itís important to understand that the types of sporting injuries can be broken down into acute pain and chronic pain. According to these different types of pain, you adopt a different type of treatment. Chronic pain, often more subtle and slow to develop than acute pain, is best treated with heat packs. Acute pain, on the other hand, is best treated with ice as an immediate treatment as it reduces inflammation and pain. Acute pain is the type of pain that is swift, sudden, sharp, and often involves severe tenderness or shooting pain from the region concerned.

As a rule, if you have swelling, use an icepack and ice the injury several times a day for up to three days. Sore, nagging injuries from overuse or a poorly healed acute injury Ė without swelling Ė call for heat treatment. In either case, cover the treatment device in sufficient layers to protect the skin, as further injury can occur with an uncovered treatment source, and also if the application to the skin lasts longer than 20-30 minutes. Never use a heat pack with a swollen injury, as the heat increases circulation and raises skin temperature.

At times a dual heat-ice approach is required, for instance for a Frozen Shoulder solution or an athlete who suffers from chronic pain or injuries from overuse of a particular muscle or body region. In the case of Frozen Shoulder, itís an idea to use heat and ice to respectively decrease stiffness and relieve pain. A morning routine that includes applying heat to the affected zone will reduce the immobility and icing the stiff and painful shoulder before going to bed may just aid with a good nightís sleep. An athlete who is plagued by a recurring or chronic injury is advised to ice the injury after each performance as a preventative measure against inflammation. With this in mind, youíll be in tip-top shape to take to the track, field, slopes, skies or surf.

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