Should I switch from cold to warm compress on knee?
February 22, 2007 9:27 PM   Subscribe

Is there a time I should switch from cold to warm compresses on a joint injury?

Several days ago I tore my ACL while skiing. I went to the emergency room and was instructed to put cold compresses on it for the first two days or so to reduce swelling. The swelling has gone down considerably (and pain is greatly reduced), but the joint is still quite stiff. Would it be helpful to switch to a warm compress to fight the stiffness, or should I continue with cold compresses (or do nothing)? Any advice would be appreciated.
posted by sherlockt to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANAD, but I've always thought it was cold for ~48 hours until swelling peaks/reduces, and then heat because it makes it feel better. I think you have the right idea.
posted by JMOZ at 9:34 PM on February 22, 2007

Yes, switch to warm after 48 hours.
posted by awesomebrad at 9:34 PM on February 22, 2007

Cold is always the best. Warm makes it feel better short term. Cold reduces inflamation. Warm brings more blood flow. More blood flow to an injury increases inflamation which often increases healing time. There is no black and white with these things. Are you in serious pain? Warm for a bit of relief. IS it inflamed, cool for reducing that (and take lots and lots of NSAIDs). Mostly you should cool though.
posted by caddis at 9:45 PM on February 22, 2007

So you've torn your ACL?
posted by chudder at 9:48 PM on February 22, 2007

Do not switch to heat. Continue doing exactly what they told you in the emergency room, and get further instructions on your followup visits.

The general rule of thumb is that you can't hurt yourself with cold (unless you give yourself frostbite, which you would really have to work at), but you can easily with heat by exacerbating inflammation as caddis said. The NSAIDs can inhibit healing in the long term, but for the short term fighting inflammation is more important so keep taking them (I assume you have a prescription).

I only use heat on injuries which are well into the healing process or not inflamed at all, and then usually as part of a hot-cold cycle treatment intended to "flush" the area.
posted by Manjusri at 12:31 AM on February 23, 2007

What they said. From what I've learned regarding injuries, when something is inflamed it doesn't need heat. Cooling is better to reduce the inflammation.
I am not a doctor nor do I play one on tv or elsewhere. So, FWIW.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:46 AM on February 23, 2007

I agree with everything said above about the advantages of cold compresses.

Warmth will also increase flexibility and help relax any muscular spasms when you are trying to rehabilitate however.
posted by dendrite at 1:10 AM on February 23, 2007

Don't warm a joint injury (or do anything else to it that would promote blood flow) until the swelling has completely gone, indicating that all the busted bits inside have healed up enough to stop leaking. If you still have swelling, cool is best.
posted by flabdablet at 2:41 AM on February 23, 2007

My stepmom is an OT and she always tells me to ice my joint pain regardless of how old the injury is.
posted by tastybrains at 6:16 AM on February 23, 2007

Heat is sometimes used in order to get the joint moving for rehabilitation purposes, but ice is used after use for all of the reasons given above.
posted by OmieWise at 7:17 AM on February 23, 2007

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