Written by Dr. Dave Hnida, CBS4 Medical EditorIt’s bad enough you tripped over that piece of lint on the floor–and everyone saw you do it– but now you’ve got to deal with a sprained body part.

(Not broken or mangled or bloodied body part, because if youve got one of those, stop reading and go to the doctor).

For those minor little dings, you now have to answer that age-old question which everyone seems to struggle with on “Final Jeopardy” : Should I ice or heat?

Here you go:

For the first 72 hours after injury, it’s ice. After that time frame, it’s generally heat.

The reason ice gets to bat first is that with an injury, you generally get swelling from broken blood vessels. You want to constrict , or narrow, those vessels, and one of the best ways to do that is with ice.

Use heat, and those vessels dilate, and you bleed–and swell- more.

How long? Ice 15-20 minutes. Going longer generally doesn’t help that much more, and increases your risk of frostbite (and yes, I’ve seen people do that to themselves.)

Then wait about 45 minutes before re-icing. You want the skin to look and feel normal before throwing the ice pack on again.

As for the 20 on, 20 off “rule”, 15-45 is probably a little better.

You can use an ice pack or a bag of cubes (just make sure you don’t apply directly to skin.)

You can fill up some paper cups and freeze them– then massage the ice on the injured part, peeling away the cup as you go.

Youve probably also heard the bag of frozen peas trick.

Then don’t forget about the rest of “RICE”– which is rest, ice, compression, and elevation. That elevation deal is really important.

As for rest, if it hurts to use it, listen to your body– it’s telling you something needs healing.

As for compression, an elastic sleeve is good. An “ACE” comes in second– and if you use one, start the wrap from the farthest point, and work upwards. And never sleep with a wrap on– you want to know if you’re cutting off circulation.

In sum, ICE is NICE.

And watch out for those sneaky pieces of lint.


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