When To Use Heat or Ice For Your Aches and Pains
A little too zealous working in the yard? Over did it during your last workout? Misstep off the curb? Whatever the reason for your aches and pains, knowing how to take them can help your body heal faster. When sore muscles & sprains require TLC, and not a trip to the ER, heat and ice can provide relief. But which injuries call for heat and which ones call for ice?
Sure, heat sounds like the most comforting option, but it's not always the correct choice: any sign of swelling calls for ice. Ice constricts the blood vessels which decreases inflammation and numbs pain. Even if swelling isn't present, sudden injuries that cause sharp pain or bruising also benefit from ice- especially within the first 24 hours after injury.
How to Use: Follow the rules of RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation. Apply ice pack to injured area with slight pressure for 15-20 minutes while area is elevated above the heart, remove ice, then reapply in 20-40 minutes.
Ice Caution: Do not apply directly to bare skin; use a towel or clothing as a barrier. Temperature should be cold, but not unbearable. Watch for skin discoloration (a slight pinkish color is normal) or hives. Do not continue icing after area becomes numb, prolonged usage may cause tissue damage.
Tight muscles? Sore joints? Both of these aches can benefit from increased blood flow and oxygen circulation created by the application of heat. If your injury/strain occurred more than 24 hours ago (and there's no swelling), heat may also provide greater pain relief relaxing muscle tissue and easing spasms.
How to Use: Apply a warm compress (hot water bottle, heating pad) on top of the sore area for 10-15 minutes; you run the risk of burns if you fall asleep with the heat source underneath you. Do not apply heat if there is swelling, heat, or inflammation present in the injured area.
Heat Caution: Do not apply heat directly to bare skin; use a towel or clothing as a barrier. Temperature should be warm, but not unbearable. Watch for skin discoloration (a slight pinkish color is normal) or blistering.
As a general guideline, if muscles or joints are achy or sore heat can help ease pain and spasm relief. Any swelling, sudden, or distinct pain in muscles, tendons, ligaments, or joints will benefit from ice.
Certainly, open wounds, persistent/ increased swelling, or numbness warrant medical attention.
Another pain relief option that simulates cryotherapy is Biofreeze. Available as a topical gel, spray or roll-on,
Biofreeze herbal blend utilizes menthol to stimulate cold nerve receptors and interrupt pain signals. Biofreeze, however, should not be used in conjunction with heating pads or ice packs.
Trained massage therapists may use Biofreeze on specific areas during a massage session to target pain relief, increase circulation, and improve range of motion. This is especially beneficial for clients addressing back pain, arthritis, joint pain, sprains, and strains.
Ask your massage therapist about incorporating Biofreeze into your at-home wellness routine, or applying pre/post massage session.