Should I Use Ice, Heat Or E-Stim?

These are the go to modalities for pain reduction. Do they work? Should you use them? Do they help or hinder recovery?

  • Ice is a complete waste of time and will delay healing
  • Heat is good for pain and promotes blood flow which heals injuries
  • Electrical stimulation is good at reducing pain for a short period of time and nothing else

Should I Use Ice For An Injury?

No. Ice does not, never has and never will reduce inflammation. We desperately need to get out of this line of thinking from the 20th century. Ice cause vasoconstriction. This decreases blood flow. If you were to take a running hose and clamp it off, would water be able to get thought it? Of course not. But somehow we think this same concept will reduce inflammation.

Furthermore, why do we want to reduce inflammation? Inflammation after an injury is not bad. In fact, inflammation is the first part of the healing phase and is REQUIRED for tissues to heal. Why would you want to reduce inflammation (which ice doesn’t even do) much less delay it? By delaying inflammation, which ice does, you delay the healing process. If you want to recover faster from an injury you should never use ice.

Should I Use Heat For An Injury?

Heat works in the opposite capacity as ice. It causes vasodilation which improves blood flow. You can never have enough blood flow. As you improve circulation, you help the joint be cleaned out of waste and damaged cells from an injury. This speeds up the healing process. As you heat the tissue, you decrease stiffness in joints, decrease pain promote healing.

In addition to these benefits, heat has the ability to reduce pain in the injured area. One modality can reduce pain and also improve tissue healing? This is the reason heat is the most useful modality on this list by a wide margin.

Should I Use Electrical Stimulation For Pain?

Before we discuss electrical stimulation, we need to establish how how it works. It works via a process called the Gate Control Theory. In the simplest of terms it works as follows:

  • You have a painful stimulus that the brain detects. We’ll call it Stimulus A
  • You apply a new stimulus in the form of electrical stimulation. We’ll call it Stimulus B
  • We can override the brain so that it detects Stimulus B instead of A
  • This then causes a reduction in pain

Is the concept of electrical stimulation making sense now? By providing the new stimulus of the electrodes, the brain “forgets” about the pain and this reduces pain. This will not fix the injury however. It is merely a band aid to the injury. However, this can be extremely useful when rehabbing a painful injury. Electrical stimulation can be done to reduce pain and then some gentle exercise can be done to promote healing. Additionally, if pain is the only concern then electrical stimulation is beneficial.

Brief summary of these modalities:

  • Ice is stupid and useless. It slows recovery so you should never use it
  • Heat is good to promote healing and blood flow
  • Electrical stimulation is great at reducing pain

For some more information of modalities that improve blood blow, see below: