Hot or cold? Home treatments can save doctor visit

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

So you twisted your ankle on the basketball court, or the arthritis in your knee is acting up. Too often those people run to the doctor when their injuries or pains can easily be treated at home, said John Weink, a physician assistant in the orthopedic department at Dean Riverview Clinic.

“I think that if more patients had the education on how to treat things conservatively, they would probably see their physician a little less,” he said.

That goes for things like back strains, ankle sprains and arthritis, he said, because you have the tools to treat yourself in your own home.

Most patients know if something is serious enough to seek medical attention, such as a persistent problem or broken bone.

But if, for example, you twisted something walking, it’s a good likelihood it’s just a sprain, Weink said. A vast number of muscular skeletal disorders don’t result in fractures, he said.

“Give those things a few days before running in,” he said.

So use heat or ice?

The general rule of thumb, Weink said, is:

-- Use ice if there is swelling in an acute setting such as a sprained ankle.

“You will get swelling pretty quick, so elevate and ice it to decrease the swelling,” he said. “However, you can use ice any time you have swelling.”

-- Use heat to increase blood flow to promote healing in cases such as a back strain where there’s no swelling.

Weink doesn’t recommend a set number of hours of icing before switching to heat. Ice should be used initially to reduce swelling, and after a day or two, it can be intermixed with heat to promote healing. But if there’s still swelling, continue with ice, he said.

If you overdid it raking leaves, use heat on your back because it’s mainly a muscle strain, Weink said.

For arthritis, people often use heat because it feels good—and that’s fine—but it only offers the benefit while it’s applied, Weink said. But ice, he said, will relieve swelling and actually make a difference, he said.

Taking tablets of an anti-inflammatory such as Aleve or ibuprofen with food generally works well and can relieve pain, he said.

Oftentimes people get a sports or other injury and rush in to the doctor the same day, but that doesn’t give your body enough time to recover from a sprain or strain, Weink said.

Unless there’s severe pain and, for example, you can’t put any weight on your foot, give it at least three days and then see a doctor if problems persist, he said.

“For general twisting, honestly, the best thing is to see if it won’t get better on its own in three to five days,” he said.

Last updated: 9:14 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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