Inflammation is common after acute injuries including auto accidents and good management of inflammation can improve pain levels. Inflammation after an injury will present with symptoms including heat, redness, swelling, pain, stiffness, and loss of function. One of the best ways to manage acute inflammation after an injury is to apply ice and cool the affected area.
Ice application helps to constrict capillaries and blood vessels that supply an injured area of your body. This constriction of the blood vessels limits swelling and inflammation in the area. This reduces pain and can help improve healing. Inflammation is a normal part of the healing process, but it can get out of hand and increase the time you need to heal as well as pain and discomfort while you are healing.
It is best to avoid heat after an acute injury. Heat is comfortable when it is applied, but heat will dilate blood vessels and increase fluid movement and accumulation. In the case of an acute injury, this leads to increased inflammation and the injured area can hurt more when the heat is removed.
Ice with a gel freezer pack should generally be applied for 15 minutes every 2 hours. The gel freezer pack should be wrapped in a towel and should not directly touch the skin, as it is very cold and can lead to injury. Ice use may not be indicated with certain conditions that restricted blood flow as the ice may excessively cool the area and lead to injury.
Ice massage with water ice rather than a gel ice pack is useful for injuries to extremities. Holding an ice cube with a towel, or a paper cup with ice, gently move the ice cube in a circular motion over the injured area. The sensation in the area will change from cold, to burning, aching, and then numbness. Ice massage should be stopped when the sensation in the area changes to numbness or tingling and before any sensation of pain is felt.
Topical gels are another method of cryotherapy and are good for reducing pain. Pain relieving gels can be applied directly to the injured area and avoid treating non-injured areas. Topical pain relieving gels deliver many of the benefits of ice without the inconvenience of direct ice application.
Cryotherapy and ice are not as helpful for chronic stresses such as back pain from sitting too long. In these cases, heat application is more useful.
If you have symptoms from an auto injury, see a Chiropractor for examination and treatment. Your body recovers faster when treated early.