After a back or neck injury, whether surgery is indicated or not, a person may benefit from physical therapy. The role that physical therapy plays in recovery is significant. This aspect of rehabilitation may incorporate a variety of modalities that each progress the return to normal function and range of motion. Here, we discuss how ice and heat are used to promote healing.
Why Heat May Be Used for Sports Injuries
Heat is typically used when a joint or muscle has become stiff with inflammation. When heat is applied to a constricted muscle or one that is in spasm, it loosens the soft tissue. The use of heat is not only vital to healing but also to injury prevention after rehabilitation. For example, before stretching or engaging in an activity like yoga, a person who has suffered a back or neck injury can apply a moist, hot pack to the part of their spine that may be more susceptible to tightness.
How Heat Should be Used for injuries
Physical therapists recommend using moist heat vs dry heat for one particular reason: it’s more penetrative. A moist, hot pack can be applied over a joint, muscle, or soft tissue for 15 to 20 minutes at a time with at least half an hour in between applications. Hot packs may be purchased or made by wetting a towel in hot water or carefully heating a wet, rung towel in the microwave for a minute or two. A hot tub or jacuzzi also qualifies as moist heat, as can ultrasound and heating creams often used by physical therapists.
Heat therapy does increase blood flow to injured tissue. As a result, using heat could cause swelling to worsen before it gets better. Heat should also be removed as needed to prevent burns.
Using Ice to Heal Damaged Tissue
The primary reason why people apply ice to an injury is that cold decreases blood flow through traumatized tissue. Decreasing blood flow reduces inflammation and the swelling that results. For this reason, ice is more often used within the first 48 to 72 hours after an acute injury or as long as swelling persists.
How Ice Should be Used for injuries
It is possible to purchase ice packs made for sports injuries. Alternatively, ice cubes can be placed into a baggie or, in a pinch, a bag of frozen vegetables can be used to reduce swelling. Because ice can cause frostbite burns on the skin, a thin cloth should always be placed between the skin and the ice pack. Ice can be applied for approximately 20 minutes at a time.
If you’ve experienced a back or neck injury or are suffering from chronic, unexplained back or neck pain, you could benefit from a thorough consultation and examination. Reach our NYC office at 212-606-1004 to schedule a visit.