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Think Cold for Winter Sports Injury Treatment

Cold therapy, not heat, is your best bet

SUNDAY, Nov. 30, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- That tumble you took while trying to conquer the expert ski hill or that crushing body check you received in your weekly hockey game has left you with an injury.

What do you do now -- apply ice or heat?

You should apply ice as soon as possible after the injury and continue using it for the next two or three days, or until the swelling goes away, recommends the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS). Using ice after you suffer an injury decreases blood flow to the injured tissue and reduces inflammation and pain.

But don't place ice or ice packs directly on the injury site. You could suffer frostbite. Place the ice pack over a wet towel or washcloth and use an elastic bandage to hold the ice pack in place. Apply the ice pack to the injury site for 20 to 30 minutes every three to four hours.

An ice massage is a good way to treat an overuse injury. Freeze water in a paper or Styrofoam cup. Then tear away the cup's top lip and rub the ice over the injured area for 5 to 10 minutes.

It's not a good idea to apply heat within the first few days of an injury or while there is still swelling. That's because heat increases the blood flow to the injury area, and that can increase the swelling.

While heat shouldn't be used to treat an injury, it can be used to reduce muscle spasms, joint stiffness and limber up soft tissue, says the UMHS. You might use heat to loosen tight muscles and joints while doing a warm-up before you exercise or play a sport.

More information

Learn more about ice therapy at the University of Iowa.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System
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