Sprains can be tricky to navigate. Even mild sprains which often happen around ankles, knees, and wrists can result in discomfort for days with long-term side effects if not cared for properly. Not to mention, these injuries are often not deemed “severe enough” for doctors visits, but still leave you with care questions. While it’s not often possible to rest completely, there are some things you can do at home to mitigate the pain and give yourself the best chance of healing quickly and safely.
One question we hear often is how do I know when to apply ice or heat?
Applying ice constricts and limits blood flow to the area, which is an effective way to prevent swelling. Ice can also help temporarily numb any pain you may be feeling. With heat, our blood vessels expand to take in more blood, which can cause swelling but also promote mobility if an injury has left you experiencing stiffness.
With this in mind, let’s look at a timeline:
For the first 2-3 days post injury, stick to ice. We want to limit the blood flow to the area to mitigate excessive swelling. Apply ice for 15 minute increments throughout the day, providing a barrier between the cold pack and your skin (ex: wrap the ice pack in a towel). After that initial icing period, you’ll want to apply heat to promote mobility before any activity, and ice it again afterwards to bring the swelling down.
With any exercise, you want to warm up beforehand and do a cooldown afterwards – icing and heating a sprain works exactly the same way. So always remember to warm up, and cool down. After about two weeks, if it doesn’t feel like your situation is improving, it may be time to see a doctor.