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Ice or Heat: What’s Best for Pain?

You’ve probably heard that the best way to treat an injury is to apply ice immediately. But how do you know for certain that the pain you’re treating really needs ice? Could it be possible that your ache could do better with heat? To help, Reader’s Digest offers some guidelines on what to treat with ice or heat. Go with the ice for sunburns, sprains, hives, bruising and insect bites; use heat on muscle strains and menstrual cramps.

Both heat and ice will work on headaches, back pain, arthritis, sore throats, sciatica, tendinitis, headaches and back pain — just be sure you apply the right choice at the right time. For example, you may get some immediate relief from back pain with ice, but it takes heat later to loosen up muscles that are causing pain spasms.

It’s an understatement, I’m sure, to say we’ve all experienced an ache or pain, here or there, in our bodies a time or two in our lives. But before you self-treat for anything, it’s indeed helpful to know what to grab, first, to relieve your pain. As a gauge, if you have a sudden injury, cold therapy is your first-line treatment. Follow up with heat to soothe ongoing pains.

The ice works early on because it narrows your blood vessels, preventing blood pooling and your tissues from swelling. On the flip side, a heat pack will help bring blood flow to the area, which promotes healing and soothes pain while increasing flexibility. As blood flow increases, so does the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the area while waste materials are removed. Generally speaking, pain that is chronic and does not involve swelling will respond well to heat treatment.

If you have ongoing pain from arthritis or any condition that causes inflammation, you may want to try the benefits of a sauna, which not only can detoxify your body, but can improve mitochondrial function and lower inflammation, thereby reducing your pain.

If you have recurrent headaches, you need to find out what’s causing them first. Anything from exposure to artificial fragrances to weather changes to simple dehydration can trigger a headache, including migraines, which can be debilitating to many. If you’re dealing with a migraine cold compresses may help; for tension headaches, a hot compress on your neck or the back of your head is more recommended.

Whatever the type of pain you’re experiencing, it’s best not to turn to pharmaceutical answers. Drinking peppermint tea or taking a curcumin (turmeric) supplement are two good options. With headaches, rubbing essential oils such as eucalyptus or peppermint diluted in a carrier oil on pressure points on your head can help, too.
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