Regardless of how active or athletic you are, you have likely experienced muscle soreness, or an injury at one point or another.  The application of ice or heat is a great way to relieve sore muscles and treat pain, but which is best? Below are some tips to guide you to make the best decision and receive maximum benefit.

 Ice

Ice is usually recommended to use on an area that has inflammation. Ice is usually used as part of the initial treatment for sprains, strains and other injuries. We suggest using the application of real ice or a commercial substitute no more than 20 min per hour for the first 48 hours.  So if you are using ice for 20 min make sure you are off for at least 40 min.

Safety Tip:

Be sure to cover the ice pack with a lightweight cloth so that it does not directly touch the skin. Putting the ice pack directly on the skin for longer periods of time or applying it too often could result in tissue damage, including frostbite!

 Heat

Heat is generally recommended for chronic aches and pains, or new and minor muscular pains. We recommend heat therapy for problems like a stiff neck or a sore back.  Heat is great for relaxing the muscles and can also help improve circulation and reduce muscle spasm. There are many ways to apply heat like heating pads, and reusable gel packs which provide dry heat or using steamed towels, or whirlpools which provide moist heat.

The type of heat treatment relies on professional recommendations and personal preferences. These treatments are generally used for anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours depending on your method of choice, but it is important to remember that warmth is key. Not too hot. Too much heat can harm skin and tissue.

 Safety Tip:

There are many benefits with heat therapy however, the application of heat could actually increase some inflammation issues so use heat therapy carefully. It is not usually recommended for people who have diabetes or peripheral vascular disease. When in doubt, get a professional opinion.

 Ultimately, we suggest you ice for new injuries and choose heat for chronic pain or minor sore muscles to feel better faster. For best results, combine rest, compression and elevation along with the cold/heat application and do this for two days. If the problem worsens or doesn’t show significant improvement in 48 hours, see a doctor or physical therapist.

Remember when in doubt, get a professional opinion.