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Heat or Ice? I never remember...

Posted by Vicki on 07/23/2012

Understanding the injury and what will help it heal is the basis for knowing whether to use heat or ice. Let's look at the common sprain/strain injury and then discuss heat or ice adn when.

I am often asked what the difference is between a sprain and a strain. The answer is that an injury to a muscle is a strain and an injury to a tendon is a sprain. That's the short of it. What is often misunderstood about the injury is that both a strain and a sprain is the result of too much force that causes the muscle or tendon to tear. That tear in the tissue can range from a very small number of fibers injured to a large amount of fibers injured.

If enough fibers are injured a resulting bruise is noted from the bleeding that occurs under the skin from the torn fibers. That bleeding may not show up for several days depending on how deep the torn fibers are under the skin. More fibers torn = more bleeding = larger bruise. Gravity will effect the blood so that the bruise may show up a distance from the actual injury. Example: A hamstring strain can occur up toward the top of the thigh, but the bruising may show up days later toward the bottom of the thigh or even behind the knee.

Treatment for a strain/sprain is ice packs for the first 72 hours will reduce the bleeding of the injured tissue and help it clot quicker to reduce the bruising. After 72 hours the bleeding has generally stopped and then the absorption of the blood back into the system can begin. The absorption is aided by opening up the healthy blood vessels to allow the blood to broken down and carried away. Heat is then applied to allow the system to absorb the blood back into the body more quickly.