Heat or Ice?

I was out hiking the other day, fell, and twisted my ankle. My doc (and Google) recommended “RICE” – or rest, ice, compression and elevation.

The resting, or staying off it, helped me from re-injuring it, the ice brought down the swelling and numbed the pain, compression kept the swelling down, and helped me to hobble around while keeping the ankle stable, and elevating it again helped with swelling. Thankfully, between that that a few acupuncture needles, I was back on my feet in no time. But what happens when the pain doesn’t go away in a few days, or weeks, or months, or even years?

Your doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist might continue to suggest ice to dull the pain. And you’ve probably found that it helps. For a while. But as soon as that numbness wears off, the pain is back, sometimes even worse than before.

There’s a better way.

In Chinese medicine, we say that pain is caused by stagnation. When qi, blood, body fluids, etc. can’t move freely through the body, they get stuck and cause pain and discomfort. Everything that I do in my clinic, and all the suggestions I make to patients, revolve around breaking up that stagnation and encouraging free flow.

Acupuncture and massage break up stagnation and increase circulation. And while ice and cold cause muscles to contract and blood flow to stop, heat allows fresh, oxygenated blood to course through the area, which prompts the body to heal itself.

Try an experiment:

Stop icing those aches and pains and try only heat for a few weeks. If it’s cold and windy outside, keep your body, especially anywhere that tends towards pain, covered and warm. I love to slather on a heating ointment like Tiger Balm, and cover it with a damp towel and a heating pad (or a hot water bottle – anything to create a moist heat). This drives the heat deep into the tissue, and feels amazing.

Have you tried heat or ice on your aches and pains? What have you discovered?



Elizabeth Williams is an acupuncturist in Greenville, South Carolina, specializing in pain management, women’s health, and psycho-emotional issues. She’s passionate about helping people feel their best and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the community. Elizabeth is the owner of Dragonfly Acupuncture & Massage, on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Appointments can be made by calling 864-451-4313, or scheduled online here.