Knee injuries, however minor, can cause pain and discomfort that prevents you from engaging in your normal daily activities. Knowing when to use ice and when it is okay to use heat on a knee that is in pain or injured can make a big difference between easing the pain and encouraging your knee to start healing or preventing your knee from starting the healing process, potentially causing more pain.
When to Use Ice
When your knee aches from hiking, gardening or even playing a game of backyard hoops but doesn't warrant a visit to the doctor, then remember the acronym RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Applying ice is one of the best things you can do to reduce inflammation. When the tissues around and in your knee are inflamed, it is not only painful but also makes it difficult to heal. Leave the ice pack on for 15 to 20 minutes and ice every few hours the first day and several times throughout the next few days. Clay or gel packs can be purchased from the store, but sometimes a bag of frozen peas works best.
When to Use Heat
Heat is used much less frequently on knees than ice is. Heat can be used in the form of dry or moist heating pads, as well as a hot bath or shower or an over-the-counter Thermacare heat pack. Heat is used to increase blood flow and sooth sore muscles but should not be used until after an injury as started healing and inflammation is no longer an issue. Heat packs can help on long car rides, before athletic activities to reduce stiffness, before exercise or even while sleeping. According to "The Healthy Knees Book," sometimes you can alternate heat and ice options with the instruction of your doctor.
When in Doubt
If you are looking to help heal the injury that is causing your knee pain, then use ice whenever in doubt of what to put on it. Ice will not do any damage if you are unsure that your area of pain is ready for heat or not. But be careful never to leave an ice or heat pack on your knee or any other injury for too long. Twenty-minute sessions are reasonable.
- "The Healthy Knees Book"; Astrid Pujari, M.D. & Nancy Schatz Alton; 2010