Should you use heat or ice for a foot and ankle injury?

Podiatrists have a number of tools and techniques to treat foot and ankle injuries, and both heat and cold have their place in the orthopedic toolbox. When it comes to major injuries, you should seek the specialized knowledge and skills of a podiatrist. But for a minor twist or bruise, or after an orthopedic operation or treatment, you can use these tools for your foot and ankle.

Let’s consider ice applications first. Applying cold to a foot and ankle injury constricts the blood vessels in the area. It also slows any processes that are happening, and as a result reduces inflammation and swelling. It can also numb the tissues, further relieving pain. That kind of relief is especially needed when we injure these critical body parts that support our weight and help us move freely. It’s also necessary as we help our bodies heal during therapy following an operation or other forms of medical treatment.

You can use gel packs or ice packs that you keep in your freezer, but you can also put ice cubes into a plastic bag. Many people even use bags of frozen peas or other vegetables, which can wrap closely around your foot and ankle. The cold might feel too intense, so it’s a good idea to place a towel between it and your skin to take the edge off of the intense cold.

Immediately following a twist, sprain or other injury to your foot and ankle—or another part of your body — you can apply an ice pack directly to the injured area. Elevate your injured foot, as well, and have someone take you to a medical professional who can assess the extent of physical damage and make recommendations about the next steps you should take to heal fully.

Icing or chilling a sprain is most effective in the first 24 to 48 hours following an injury, or if your foot and ankle feel strained after a tough run or workout.

Leave the ice pack on for 20 minutes; longer periods of time don’t help more, and applying ice directly to your skin for a long time can cause frostbite. You don’t need to add another injury to your medical history!

The advantages of heat

As you might expect, heat encourages blood vessels to open, which increases blood flow. Applying heat to a foot and ankle injury increases blood flow to the area and helping the body begin to repair physical damage you might have experienced.

After the first 24 to 48 hours following the injury, you can apply heat to the area to stimulate your body’s natural healing processes and increase flexibility in the tissues. As long as it’s not done immediately after the injury, applying heat also soothes you.

You can get moist or dry heat packs that you warm up in a microwave oven, or a heat lamp or electric heating pad. Never apply them directly to your skin. Instead, put a towel in between the heat pack and your skin. Remember to never go to sleep with a heating pad on to avoid injury or the possibility of a fire.

Also be sure not to apply heat to a new injury, especially if your foot or ankle are bleeding. Heating will increase the amount of bleeding and could lead to greater injury. After 48 hours, apply heat for no more than 15 or 20 minutes, then remove it. If you want to re-apply heat, wait at least an hour.

You can apply both heat and cold yourself to your injured foot and ankle, but it’s important to seek the expertise of a qualified Heiden Orthopedics podiatrist in Salt Lake City Utah for a proper diagnosis of the injury and other effective treatments, including medication.

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