Is Heat Or Cold Better For a Sprained Wrist?

There is an ongoing debate about whether heat or cold is better for injury like a sprained wrist.  It’s usually the same debate, and doesn’t go very deeply into how the body works and how hot or cold affects body mechanics.  But the unchanging fact is that Injury kicks in an inflammatory response, and heat and cold both affect it in certain ways.  Let’s keep it simple.

What Happens When You Sprain Your Wrist?  The moment injury happens the body kicks in an Inflammation response.  This does three things, it traps fluid in the area, it tightens muscles to ‘guard’ and ‘protect’ you from further injury, and it releases chemicals which enhance your sensitivity to pain.

As a side note, in my experience the injury is not the problem, it’s the body’s response to the problem that takes weeks and months to ‘heal’.  The key concept to dealing with an injury like a sprained wrist is kicking out the Inflammation Response.  Wrist sprains heal fast, but the defensive response can last for months, years, and decades.

What Happens When You Apply Heat?  When you put heat on the injured area, blood rushes to the area.  This is great because this brings in new oxygen, new nutrition, and various ‘healing’ factors like white blood cells and scar tissue (basically).  That’s why you feel better, feel less pain, when you apply heat.  So that’s all good because you absolutely do need oxygen, nutrition, etc, especially at the site of any kind of injury.

But remember that the Inflammation Process traps fluid in the area.  So some/all of that new fluid gets trapped there (swelling).  One problem of this is that cells can actually starve to death because new nutrition etc, has a harder time finding it’s target swimming through all the extra fluid.

Temporary benefit is GREAT!  Trapped fluid, not so great.

What Happens When You Apply Cold?  Every artery is surrounded by a little bit of muscle.  When you put cold on muscle, it contracts (shivers).  So when you apply cold to an injured wrist, the sponge of your tissue literally squeezes itself.

This squeezing pushes fluid out of the area and back through the return system.  And then, when you take the cold away, the body overcompensates and pushes a lot of new blood to the area trying to warm it back up.  The result of effective icing is that you get circulatory turnover, meaning the cold pushes old fluid out and then causes the body to push new fresh blood back in.

So which is better for a sprained wrist, hot or cold?  Heat ONLY brings new blood to the area (which is good) but then some/all of that fluid gets trapped there due to the swelling mechanic of Inflammation.

Cold pushes old blood, waste product, pain enhancing chemical, etc out of the area AND causes a rush of new blood, oxygen, nutrition, and healing factors into the injured area.

Which one sounds better to you?