It’s funny how we yearn to get back to things…back to hugging our friends, back to work, back how things were ‘before’. It’s not just nostalgia - what we ‘know’ gives us a sense of security and control, a structure to work from…
However, some might argue that we should be looking ahead, moving forwards and taking the opportunities that change can offer us. But we need the past to learn from and guide this new direction.
So, it can be useful to revisit our previous actions, in order to move forwards effectively. Are you really doing the strengthening exercises recommended for your pain, or have those slipped a bit? Are you improving your flexibility with your stretching routine, or just talking about it? And have you forgotten to use ice or heat as part of your pain management or rehab plan?
I thought this newsletter would be a good opportunity to go over the basic principles of applying heat AND/OR ice to an injury. I get asked this all the time, and both can be really effective in reducing discomfort – but only when applied appropriately and at the right time!
ICE: applying ice (cryotherapy) in the early stages of an injury can be extremely helpful in controlling inflammation and reducing pain. Try to use a flexible ice pack which can be shaped around the area of pain and always wrap the pack in a damp tea towel rather than applying it directly to your skin. This protects the skin and the underlying structures from adverse effects of excessive cold, whereby the body over-rides its natural reaction and creates excess heat (ever heard of a ‘cold burn’… not only is it painful, but it also gives you another area of injury to deal with, on top of your original one). Assuming the pack must be very cold to have any effect (or applying it for too long) is incorrect – and the designs of more recent injury packs won’t allow a low temperature to develop. Using a pack of frozen peas (again, wrapped in a damp towel) can also work, but ensure you either keep them only for injury management, or eat them immediately after – don’t refreeze them again!
HEAT: using heat can be very comforting but used too early in your injury management may cause more damage. This is because heat allows the blood vessels to dilate, allowing more blood to pass through to the injured area. A physical injury often includes microscopic tearing of muscles/ligaments, whereby blood leaks out of the damaged capillaries into the surrounding tissue. By encouraging more blood to the area, this creates more leakage of blood and increased inflammation (thus more heat, redness and pain) – so the body has more to clear up than just the original injury! However, it can be very useful slightly later on in your injury management…
That’s why I’d always recommend ice in the first 24-48 hours post-injury, to contain the injury and start the healing process. The inflammatory process is a necessary first step in any recovery, but it needs to be controlled to an appropriate level and period of time. Ice should be applied for between 5-20 minutes depending on the site of injury. Use ice on your back for 20 minutes but on the wrist for 5 minutes – it all depends on the amount of tissue bulk around the joint, with timings adjusted accordingly. Please note that leaving ice on for longer will not help, it will do harm (as explained above).
After a couple of days, I’d then recommend a combination of heat/ice/heat/ice etc to increase blood circulation through the injury site: this will deliver nutrients to aid healing and remove waste products. Apply each alternately for 20 seconds, 4-5 times. Again, be careful not to burn yourself with either!
Finally, heat can be useful if your muscles or joints are feeling stiff. As explained above, heat brings increased blood to the area, warming it up and allowing greater flexibility of the joint and surrounding soft tissues. Again though, don’t leave heat on indefinitely; remember, you’re using heat to reduce stiffness and improve movement, so make sure you gently stretch the area after applying the heat. Using a microwavable heat pack creates a damp heat which is often more soothing than dry heat (from a hot water bottle). Some injury packs can be used for heat and cold – I tend to leave one in the freezer (wrapped in a bag for hygiene purposes), and another on standby to heat up when necessary. These packs are readily available on-line and in chemists (I also have a selection of general and injury-specific ones which can be strapped in place).
And on the subject of ‘back to basics’, I’ve had lots of requests for help regarding back pain. More movement, less movement, excessive types of movement that we’re not used to, increased stress, poor sleep – all can contribute to discomfort in this area. So in response, here is my series of exercises and advice to help manage your painful back.
Don’t forget, if you’re on Facebook, you can always re-visit my daily calf stretches. And if you want the next level, my Stretching Masterclass for the whole body starts in 2 weeks’ time, where I’ll be showing you the key body stretches to use for increased flexibility, mobility, reduced injury risk and optimal performance. For participants, each session is recorded so you can view it at any time and includes a weekly ‘virtual’ drop-in Q&A session to ask me anything about your stretching and exercise routine. At just over £2 a session (8 sessions in total), it’s a really cost-effective way to improve your health and wellbeing. I’m developing the content now based on what people want – so sign up soon to make it specific it you!
I’ll leave you with my final thought: in order to maximise our health, we need to minimise anything that compromises it.
Have a wonderful weekend –