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This is a tricky subject, so let’s start with ice. Americans love ice. And it is everywhere! Even when it’s cold outside. Many patients tell us they love to use ice for pain. I must admit my former crush on ice (this was before acupuncture school, by the way). In this article, we’re going to look at the pros and cons of ice and heat therapies.

What Is Pain?

In western medicine, pain is inflammation. If you remember from science class, the 5 signs of inflammation are pain, heat, swelling, redness and loss of function. Icing the area in pain helps two of these signs, i.e., heat and swelling. However, the inflammation process is a way for the body to heal itself. By adding ice to it, you slow this process down. My anatomy professor bluntly said, “Ice is for dead people.”

Chinese Medicine Perspective

In Chinese medicine, heat is preferred. Cold or ice can detrimentally impact your health. It can lock up your muscles and aggravate your pain after you remove it. By applying heat, you help the healing process along and prevent causing more damage. Many of the medicated oils and plasters we recommend to our patients are warming in nature and contain warming Chinese herbs.

With that said, there is such a thing as too much heat. For example, keeping a hot water bottle or heating pad on your impacted area around the clock can also impact your health. You may, as a result, display signs of heat, such as fever and thirst, to name a couple.

What’s the Best Recommendation?

We recommend you use heat therapy as instructed by your healthcare practitioner. We typically tell patients to apply heat 2-3 times/day (for 20 minutes at a time) and apply a medicated oil to the area 1-2 times/day. Everyone’s situation is different so we suggest you consult your practitioner to decide what is best for you.

No doubt, not everyone agrees with this article. However, applying heat to your pain is worth trying. To help with swelling, we regularly recommend a warm bath with Epsom salt to our patients.

What do you like to do when you’re in pain? Leave your at-home remedies in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.

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