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Heat or Ice for Injuries: What’s Better for your Ankle?

If you’ve twisted your ankle and are in pain, you may be wondering: should I choose heat or ice for injuries? After all, the question is valid. And both heat and ice can help you if you’ve suffered a foot or ankle injury. Yet, immediately after twisting your ankle, stubbing your toe, or dropping something heavy on your foot, you should reach for the ice. Here’s why.

Heat or Ice for Injuries: First Choose Ice

If you’ve suffered an injury that could cause swelling or inflammation, always reach for the ice first. And do so as soon as you can. Why should you reach for a cold compress or ice pack before applying heat therapy to a soft tissue injury?

Here’s the deal. When you apply ice to an injury, you reduce the temperature of your skin surface. Immediately, this can slow down damage to your cells and reduce inflammation.

Additionally, ice can constrict your blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the injured limb and helping prevent the fluid buildup that causes post-injury swelling. So, to reduce pain and swelling following a foot or ankle injury, apply ice as soon as possible, keeping the pack in place for 15-20 minutes.

How to Properly Ice a Foot or Ankle Injury A stack of ice cubes

Ice for an injury provides the most benefit immediately after you’re hurt. To get the maximum relief, you can apply an ice pack, frozen food, or even submerge your foot in cold water for 20 minutes. (Don’t go longer than that, or you could cause damage to your skin.)

Take at least a 20-minute break from icing, then feel free to repeat the cycle every few hours throughout the day of the injury, and the next two days. Then, in the days that follow, icing may still help your recovery. But you could also consider adding heat therapy to the mix.

Heat or Ice for Injuries: When to Go Warmer

After suffering a foot or ankle injury, applying ice to the affected area for the first three days can help reduce your pain and swelling. During this time, you should also rest your injured foot or ankle, applying compression to the area and keeping your foot elevated above the level of your heart.

Following those first three days, you may wish to apply a warm compress or heating pad to the injured area. (Skip this step if you have diabetes, since neuropathy may reduce your skin’s sensitivity, allowing a hot compress to burn your skin without you realizing there’s a problem.)

Why should you switch to heat at this point? The warmth can increase blood flow to your injured foot or ankle, helping speed up your body’s natural healing abilities. However, applying heat therapy too soon after an injury can compromise your recovery by increasing swelling. So, when in doubt about applying heat or ice for injuries, always consult our team of podiatrists in Spring and Tomball, TX. And, after any foot or ankle injury, schedule an appointment in the office to rule out a more serious problem, like a broken bone!