Years ago at my daughter’s yearly well-check appointment, the doctor said, “Her legs are covered in bruises, she must be doing something right!”
I paused and looked at him questioningly. He laughed, “It just means she’s playing. She’s running. She’s falling and getting back up.”
And that’s what kids do. Whether they’re the tiniest athletes or just a neighborhood kiddo playing daily at the local playground, there are bound to be injuries that befall their growing bodies. And those injuries may be in the form of a bump, bruise, sprain, break, scratch, or countless other possible uh-ohs!
When it happens (and it will happen eventually), it’s important that you have a general basis of knowledge to pull from. Instead of calling the nurse hotline every few days, take a peek at our easy rules of thumb. When should you use heat? How about ice? Check out our quick and dirty guide below.
Acute vs. Chronic Injury
Learning the difference between acute and chronic injury is a necessary job of a sports parent – but once you know it’s an acute situation, you can then learn how to treat the issues. And usually, that comes in the form of rest, pain relief, heat or ice – and knowing when to utilize the RICE technique.
The RICE technique is used to treat acute injuries, especially those of athletes:
- Rest. Take a seat and protect the injury.
- Ice. To reduce pain and swelling.
- Compress. Wrap it up and keep it stable.
- Elevate. A sure way to reduce any swelling and help with inflammation.
Acute injuries result as a result of a single trauma – such as a fall, hit, or some other action that may happen on the court or field. These are highlighted by pain, loss of function, and/or swelling. Whereas a chronic injury is from overuse or repetitions. Both injuries need to be able to be identified and then treated in specific ways – sometimes similarly and other times with a different set of guidelines.
Today, we focus on the use of heat and ice.
When to Use Heat
Heat is utilized when blood flow needs to be increased and relaxation induced. If something is tight, heat is right! In most situations, heat is used on more chronic injuries – when the loosening of muscle and tissues as well as the stimulation of blood flow is what is needed.
*Note: Use heat before participating in sports or activities to help with chronic conditions. But also those activities that take place using its counterpart – ice – as the heat can increase swelling or inflammation of a chronic or acute injury.
Easy Heat Guidelines:
- Heating pads, heated water bottles, or muscle creams/rubs work well.
- Do not use heat if you had bleeding deficiencies or open wounds.
- Do not leave a heating pad on your skin for too long (don’t fall asleep with it!).
- Use heat for 20-minute intervals with 10 minutes of break between applications.
When to Use Ice
Grab the ice baths, buckets, and packs when inflammation or swelling has come to call. This is the go-to helper of an acute injury or what to use after activity on a chronically problematic area.
Ice helps to decrease swelling around an injury which in turn reduces pain and inactivity. It also helps to reduce bleeding into tissues (internally) as well as used on the most common of injuries such as sprains or bruises. It is most beneficial when used within the first 48 hours of an acute injury taking place or as a means to minimize a chronic flare-up.
*Note: Never place ice directly on the skin. Instead, wrap it in a towel or use an ice pack before application. This can cause tissue damage to your skin.
Easy Ice Guidelines:
- Do not use ice on your left shoulder if you have a heart injury.
- Do not use in areas of a possible circulatory problem.
- Do not place ice directly on the skin – use a towel or pack.
- Use the ice in 20-minute intervals with 10 minutes break between applications.
When to Seek Medical Treatment
There are some instances when seeking medical treatment should be the first answer – not the last.
For example, if your young one has experienced a head or neck injury, it’s better to be safe than sorry. When paired with dizziness, nausea, pain, loss of consciousness, blurred vision, or fatigue, get professional help immediately.
Here are some other situations where seeking medical treatment is the best choice:
- Your rest remedy is not helping. Even after days of heat, ice, or the swapping of the two, if the injury isn’t responding or showing signs of improvement, get it looked at. Swelling should recede and pain should decrease.
- You feel numb or tingly. These can be symptoms of nerve injury or other serious conditions.
- Your joints aren’t working. This can be a sign of a dislocation, break, or another injury that needs to be professionally diagnosed and cared for.
- Your injury is keeping you from everyday activity. If you are unable to actually use your body on a daily basis, get it looked at!
Your swelling and pains are worsening. Even after rest and remedies, your swelling continues to increase and pain gets worse, take them to the clinic.