If you find yourself in the physical therapy (pt) office because of an injury, chronic or simply just trying to prevent injury, there are many techniques used to solve these problems. But what’s the difference between them all? Four of the main techniques seen in any pt office are icing, heating, ultra sound and the use of electrical stimulation.
As cold as it sounds, ice can be a tremendous part in injury treatment. Mostly having to deal with injuries that may have caused swelling and inflammation there is a science behind why your pt might slap a bag of ice on your knee or have you neck deep into an ice bath. Ice reduces pain by numbing the area and by limiting the effects of swelling (1). The ice reduces the swelling by constricting blood vessels after application (2) immediately following an injury. Even if the injury isn’t current or new, ice is still a great way to maintain the reoccurring swelling after physical activity.
Not too hot, not too cold. Heat works best for injuries that include muscular spasms and tightness. Ideally, heat should be applied before your activity. These higher temperatures will soothe the affected area. Applying heat has been shown to decrease pain and increase mobility after some injuries — mainly those involving soft tissue such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments (2). The whole scientific reasoning behind heat is because heat causes the blood vessels dilate (opening the vessel wider than normal). This brings more blood into the area to stimulate healing of damaged tissues. It can also ease stiffness by making the tissues more supple (1). Heating is a great technique to use at home to prevent tightness and discomfort throughout your day.
Many people associate ultra sound with pregnant women, although true, it is not the sole purpose behind the method. By using sound waves (undetectable to the human ear) to generate heat deep in the body, ultrasound therapy can help loosen up tissues in preparation for manual therapy or exercise (2). Injuries pertaining to the connective injury or ligament damage, ultra sound can help speed up the recovery process. Ultrasound is thought to accelerate the normal resolution time of the inflammatory process by attracting more mast cells to the site of injury (3). Basically, the more blood flow around an injury the faster it heals.
Electrical stimulation is really quite an amazing method for restoring muscular strength. When a traumatic injury occurs, or post surgery, the stimulation unit can help speed the process of recovery. By applying a minor but steady electrical stimulus, therapists can cause contractions from muscles that may otherwise remain dormant (2). It’s crazy to think that as hard as you try to stimulate a muscle in your body there could ever be no response. The electrical stimulation comes into play before you even physically begin exercising and then helps aide the rest of the recovery process. It’s a tool to increase strength without being physically active. ~Brittany Galindo #CAPPT #PhysicalTherapy #recoverymethods #injuryprevention