26 June 2009
The Claim: Heat Should Be Applied to a Sprained Ankle
Ankle sprains are one of the most common sports injuries; they send about a million Americans to clinics every year and cause chronic problems for many.
The problem is clear, but the first-aid treatment is not: heat or cold?
Many people swear by heat, saying it soothes the pain and promotes healing by stimulating blood flow. Others advocate ice, precisely because it does the reverse, slowing blood flow and minimizing inflammation.
According to research, ice wins every time.
In multiple studies, scientists have compared heat and ice by randomly assigning people who showed up at sports clinics with sprains to receive one treatment or the other, in combination with a pain reliever like ibuprofen. One prominent study found that immediate ice therapy “resulted in earlier return to activity, as defined by ability to walk, climb stairs, run and jump without pain.”
In people with the most severe injuries — including torn ligaments — treatment with ice resulted in a 13-day recovery, compared with 30 days for those treated with heat.
For the best results, experts recommend the Price method: protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. They caution that ice should be applied only 20 minutes at a time.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ice is far better than heat for ankle sprains.