Both heat and ice can be great tools for treating pain, but they also carry risks. Here are some guidelines for using them safely:
• Always put layers of fabric between your skin and the source of heat or cold. Doubled-up towels work well.
• Monitor the temperature of your heat source, and do not use water, wax, or a heating pad that is hotter than 100°F. Temperatures over 120°F can cause dangerous burns.
• Monitor your skin. When you have nerve damage, your sensation may not be as keen as it used to be. Rather than relying on your sense of touch to tell you if something is too hot or too cold, check your skin every few minutes for signs of irritation. You can expect your skin to be uniformly pink under the heat or ice. If your skin is red or patchy, you need more layers.
• Do not put heat or ice on open wounds. This can irritate the wound, which may compromise healing.
• Limit heat and icing sessions to 10 minutes at a time. Any longer than that really isn’t necessary and may cause skin irritation.
• Never, ever sleep while using a plug-in heating pad.