To heat or not to heat? That is the question we often face when we injure ourselves or experience pain in our feet or ankles. Both heat and cold can have beneficial effects such as reducing swelling or relieving pain, but not every kind of injury should be heated and not every pain should have you reaching into your freezer for a bag of frozen peas.

The type of foot or ankle injury you have will determine which direction you should take. Here is a handy guide to help you to decide whether to apply heat or apply cold:

Keep It Cold

Injuries such as an ankle, muscle, or joint sprain involves tissue damage as well as inflammation. The inflammation and swelling is a result of damage to blood vessels at and around the injury area. You’ll want to decrease the blood flow through those inflamed vessels to minimize and reduce that swelling, and applying cold gets the job done. Cold and ice can quickly constrict the blood vessels in your skin and underlying tissues, which decreases blood flow. 

Ice can help relieve pain and swelling related to many acute, or temporary injuries, such as:

  • Ankle sprains
  • Knee sprains
  • Muscle or joint sprains
  • Red, hot or swollen feet
  • Acute pain after intense exercise

The sooner you can apply cold to the injury area, the better. Ideally, you’ll want to get off of your feet and apply cold within the first 24 hours after you’ve injured yourself. You can use a bag of crushed ice, a gel pack, or the aforementioned bag of frozen peas as your cold delivery system. Don’t put the ice directly on your skin, however, as it can cause frostbite. Put a thin washcloth or shirt between your skin and the ice, or put the ice pack in a pillowcase, and keep applying the ice for about 20 minutes at a time throughout the first 24-48 hours.

Heat Things Up

While cold constricts blood vessels and slows down blood flow, heat takes things in the opposite direction. Heat helps increase the flow of blood and allows muscles to relax.  The increase in tissue elasticity has a soothing, pain relieving effect. That’s why heat is the way to go for muscle pain and soreness, stiff joints, and arthritis.

As with cold, you should avoid direct contact between your skin and the heating element, which can be a hot, wet towel or a microwaveable gel pack or electric heating pad which you can get at your local drugstore. Even a hot shower or back can provide pain relief and muscle relaxation when heat is called for.

JAWS podiatry: Hollywood, Florida Foot and Ankle Specialists

While heat and cold can help reduce swelling, relieve pain, and speed along your recovery from a foot or ankle injury, some injuries do require medical attention and more involved treatment. If you are experiencing ongoing pain or discomfort, the experienced and skilled podiatrists at JAWS podiatry in Hollywood, Florida can help. We offer the highest degree of care in a welcoming, comfortable environment. Please contact us today at (954) 922-7333 to schedule a consultation.