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Q. Which is better to use, heat or ice?
A. Ice is generally prescribed in the early stages of healing. This period begins at the time your pain or injury starts and lasts up to three days. The cold temperature makes your blood vessels in the sore area vasoconstrict (vase-oh-con-strict ) (become narrower), which helps with the initial stages of healing. Cold treatments can include cold packs or ice bags, which are usually put on the sore area for 10 to 15 minutes.
Heat is generally used after the early stages of healing are over. Heat makes your blood vessels vasodilate (vase-oh-dye-late) (get larger). This helps flush away chemicals that can cause pain. It also helps to bring in nutrients and oxygen, which help the area heal. True heat in the form of a moist hot pack, a heating pad, or warm shower or bath, is better than creams that give the feeling of heat. Hot packs are usually placed on the sore area for 15 to 20 minutes. When using heat, you must be careful to make sure your skin does not overheat and burn. It is also not a good idea to sleep with an electric heating pad at night. This can cause the "lobster effect" where your skin becomes red and actually burns from the prolonged heat.