When you sustain an injury several things happen at a physiological level, which results in the injured area becoming hot, red and swollen shortly after an injury. When the body detects an injury, it initiates an inflammatory response (known as an inflammatory cascade) and blood flow to the area increases to assist with healing and this contributes to swelling. This inflammatory response lasts between 48 and 72 hours and if left untreated, may lead to ongoing stiffness and pain. How do you limit this?
The answer is simple – ICE.
In the early phase after an injury (acute phase), it is important to prevent excessive swelling, pain and heat. Ice will slow the blood flow to the area, decreasing swelling, redness and heat. The use of ice will help to prevent ongoing stiffness down the track.
Following injury, ice should be applied every 2 hours over the first 48-72 hours.
Heat increases blood flow to any area it is applied so it is not recommended in an acute situation (such as muscle or ligament tear). Use heat when structures are stiff or over trigger points in muscles. Heat prior to exercise may assist in muscular pliability and can be done in conjunction with a physical warm up using heat creams or compression tights.