It is a source of great confusion as to what is the best form of first aid when you strain a muscle, joint, ligament…. It’s obviously not always easy to tell in yourself what exactly you have done, and what structure you have injured.

You have a few options. You could apply a warm compress, a cold compress, or you could alternate between the two! What to do?!

A warm compress is of more use with chronic (that is longstanding, ongoing) pain. It isn’t the best form of treatment if the area is inflamed and swollen. This can be an effective way to release muscle tension, and so also may reduce the stiffness experienced in an area. Moist heat penetrates better. Always wrap your compress in a towel to avoid scalding or burns. I would suggest 10 to 15 minutes as an ideal time to leave the compress in place.

                                                         Image Supplied by Google

So avoid hot compresses in an acute injury, where inflammation and swelling are present. In these circumstances, ice packs are the best compress to apply. Use an ice pack, or frozen vegetables (peas work well!) Whatever you’re using, don’t allow anything frosty to make contact with the skin, so wrap in a tea towel. I would suggest 10 minutes application, no longer than 15 minutes is ideal. In an acute injury, it is ideal to apply the compress regularly. Perhaps as much as once an hour. Just make sure your skin has returned to a normal temperature before applying the next pack.

People with Raynauds, or particular cold sensitivities may find ice packs inappropriate. Consult with your health practitioner regarding this if the need arises.

                                                        Image Supplied by Google

Then finally you have a choice to contrast bathe, that is alternate hot and cold. The idea being that the dilation and constriction of the blood vessels has a pumping effect to push the inflammation out of the area. So this is often applied in the bath/shower. Or could still be done with hot and cold compresses. Start with cold, followed by heat, then finish with cold. If you are using packs, try 5 minutes of each. You could try this in a bath/shower, perhaps 1 to 2 minutes of each is more realistic in this setting.

So contrast bathing is another option for acute injuries. This is not always appropriate for people with reduced sensation or nerve damaged issues. Also, those with heart and circulatory issues should seek advice before applying contrast bathing.

Rubs and Medication

In a similar way to applying hot and cold compresses, you may wish to use a cream alternative. These can be found easily in the pharmacy. In my opinion they are useful as a more portable form of treatment, but if you are at home I would suggest using the real thing.

Anti-inflammatories can also bought in gel form. In the UK they are readily available at the pharmacy. I’m sure the pharmacist will check they are appropriate for you to apply, but always check this is the case. These may be useful in a more acute scenario.

Pain medications of various kinds, and anti-inflammatories are also easy to obtain in tablet from the pharmacy. These may help you in the short-term, and you should always check they are appropriate for you to take. Anti-inflammatories may have some treatment benefits in an acute injury. Painkillers may help you relax and move more normally, thereby aiding your mobility and getting you back to full health more swiftly. Remember, pain medications may eliminate the pain but not the problem. So be careful when you’re taking them. Be aware that the problem may still be there, even if you can’t feel it.


Remember this! Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevate (where possible). This is useful if you have just injured an area.

Again where possible, it is important to keep as mobile as you can. So as time passes with an injury remember. Movement, Ice, Compression and Elevation (where possible).

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