So you skipped last week’s installment of Let’s get PHYSICAL, where I gave you a heads up on avoiding exercise injuries, and now you’re laid up with a nasty sprain or strain. Rather than chastise you for missing a week’s worth of pertinent pointers, I’m here to help you heal. Minor slip-ups are inevitable when you workout, but if treated quickly and correctly, they shouldn’t keep you out of the gym for long. Heat ’em up or cool ’em down, but don’t let injuries hold you back.
Ice, ice baby!
Ice therapy is best for new (acute) injuries, like a sprained ankle, because it slows blood circulation and decreases the body’s production of inflammatory chemicals. Simply put, you’ll experience less bleeding and swelling, and more importantly, less pain.
Ice should be applied immediately after an injury is sustained to minimize damage. Place a thin washcloth wrung out in cold water between the icepack and your skin and secure both with an elastic bandage. The moist, cool cloth will pull double duty, protecting the skin and transmitting the cold. Watch the thickness of the cloth, because if it’s too thick, it’ll block the cold.
Ice therapy should be combined with rest, compression and elevation (RICE) to minimize swelling and inflammation. Limit sessions to 20 minutes; any longer and you risk tissue damage. Repeat every hour as needed, but never, EVER ice before you exercise. The ice will numb the area and you won’t realize if you’re doing more damage.
Crushed ice in a ziploc bag is your best bet when icing an injury because it conforms to the shape of your body and keeps you from getting all wet. Frozen veggies, like peas or corn, also work. Gel packs and instant icepacks are another, more pricey option.
Hot, hot heat!
Use heat for chronic ailments, such as stiffness and arthritis, or to warm up a body part. Heat therapy is a great pre-exercise option because it loosens muscles and joints as well as eases aches and pains.
Check the temperature carefully before you place a heating device on your body. Pads may be hotter on the skin than they feel to a quick touch. Warm pads can be safely worn for up to eight hours per day, but limit use of hotter pads (above 40 degrees Celsius) to 20-30 minute sessions, up to three to four times per day.
Since it increases circulation, heat therapy should never be used if swelling or inflammation is present.
Gel hotpacks provide long-term comfort and can be wrapped around joints and other body parts. Packs filled with rice or other grains also provide soothing relief and can safely be reheated many times in the microwave. Be aware that you can’t get them wet, and consider using a washable cover, like a towel, so the product doesn’t get too grungy.
Electric pads are another convenient option, but often overheat. Never lie directly on, or fall asleep on one.
Muscle rubs simulate the benefits of heat but their warming effects are superficial. They’re great for easing pain, but don’t provide the healing effects of real heat.
Both heat and cold can help heal what hurts you. Put new injuries on ice and warm up the ones that won’t go away and you won’t be laid up for long.