If you had any doubt about how much pain can suck the energy right out of you, you only needed to look at Graham. At the age of 39, he was bent over in agony and shuffling along like an old man. Even his face was wrinkled from the continual wincing in pain. I helped him to lie face down on the table so I could examine his inflamed lower back. As I felt his inflamed lower back I exclaimed “Oh no!” in exasperation. I had realized that he had committed one of the cardinal sins that often prolongs pain and recovery.
“You’ve been putting heat packs on your back, haven’t you?”
“Yeah” Graham replied in a tone that suggested “That’s what I’m meant to do”. Trying to maintain a calm exterior I let out an inner cry of frustration as I realized that yet again, my job of helping someone recover from his injury has just been made a lot harder.
“Are you aware that you are meant to use ice and not heat? The heat actually increases the inflammation and makes things worse.”
“I have always been told that that you should put heat on when it’s muscular” objected Graham.
“When you see the footy players injure a muscle, what do you see them do on the sidelines? Do they apply a heat pack or ice?”
“Ice” replied Graham, beginning to see the error in his ways but he was still confused.
“But if heat is so bad for you why does it feel better when you apply heat.”
“It feels better because you feel the heat instead of the pain. Its just like if you hit your hand on something you immediately grab your hand and rub it. You feel the rubbing instead of the pain. But the problem is that the heat actually increases the underlying inflammation.”
Graham was beginning to understand. “So you are saying that those heat creams designed to treat arthritis and pains don’t really work?”
“They are a classic example of treating the symptom and not the cause. Let’s think about it for a moment… Arthritis actually means inflamed joint. What are the signs of inflammation?”
“Pain and swelling” Graham answered.
“And muscle spasm, redness and heat. So how could applying more heat effectively reduce arthritis?”
“It doesn’t make sense, does it?” Graham stated.
“You’re absolutely right. Adding heat in the form of heat packs or heat creams to an inflamed area does not make any sense,” I confirmed.
I can understand that it is confusing when many physicians and therapists incorrectly recommend that you use heat. Although their advice may temporarily mask your pain you will end up being in more pain for longer.
If you are in pain right now, what do I recommend?
USE ICE. If you are in doubt, always use ice. At worst it will do nothing, at best it will help massively.
It is best to wrap ice in a wet towel and apply it to the injured area for about twenty minutes.(This is to ensure that you don’t burn your skin by getting it too cold) Reapply it every hour.
I really like to use those ice gel packs that are still flexible when frozen. They drip a lot less than ice and are easier to apply to the injured areas. An added bonus is that they lose their coldness after about twenty minutes so you don’t have to keep a close eye on the clock.
Other options are cooling creams and those cooling sprays if you can’t be walking around with ice packs strapped to you. But what is most important is if you injure or sprain a part of your body avoid the heat and KEEP COOL.
Remember…BEAT THE HEAT. ICE IS NICE.