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Hot and Cold Packs May Not Actually Work

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Nursing a bum knee post-run with a heating pad or ice pack has long been a solid go-to home remedy recommended by coaches and athletes alike. And while it helps soothe aches for some, others may need physical therapy to address a deeper issue, otherwise they risk making matters worse, advises a new campaign from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation called “Choose Wisely.” The initiative encourages talking to your physical therapist about an active treatment plan to restore strength and fully recover.

“It may feel good to use a heat pad or ice pack, but there's really no scientific evidence that you're getting any benefit from it,” says Anthony Delitto, Ph.D., an APTA member and chairman of the University of Pittsburgh's physical therapy. For this reason, Delitto teaches physical therapists not to offer these options in their clinics. “We want our therapists to focus on helping to re-activite the patient through movement and exercise instead.”

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Because it's hard to self-diagnose whether you need physical therapy, it would be good to go in for a consultation, especially if a nagging injury isn't going away or becoming more debilitating. The thing to keep in mind while at this consultation, and subsequent visits if needed, is to optimize your time, which is another major point of the “Choose Wisely” campaign.

“We're trying to educate patients that you shouldn't just be sitting in a physical therapist's office applying an ice pack. You're being charged at that time even if your insurance covers it,” Delitto says. “The best way to get the biggest bang for your buck is activity, movement, and those kind of things reintegrating the person into life. Ask your therapist to teach you an exercise program that you will do at home and actually carry through until you feel better,” he suggests. In other words, ask for more from your PT. “When the meter is running, you should always get the most of your visit.”

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