One of the most frequently asked questions I get in my office is, ” Should I use heat or ice on my injury?”
Often times I will say…. It depends.
When to use ICE
Ice should be used for any new injuries, whether it be a strain or strain. Ice helps to numb the local area of pain that is caused by inflammation. Now, inflammation is a completely normal/ natural process the body goes through, but it can be pretty painful, and that is where the ice comes in to help dull the pain. Ice can be used intermittantly on and off ( 20 minutes on, 40 minutes off). The initial phase of ice will slow down the blood flow, but after 20 minutes the blood flow will actually increase because the body is trying to get heat to the area where it feels cold.
When to use HEAT
Heat is often used for any type of chronic muscle tightness or an injury or pain that has been lasting longer than 6 weeks. Heat acts superficially on the muscle, causing increased blood flow through out the surface area. This also affects the tissue extensibility, meaning, it allows the muscle to become a little more loose and flexible. This is only for a short amount of time following heat application.
The moral of the story is, I recommend using your best judgement. Your personal preference is the most important thing to take into consideration. Ice usually wins, and is mainly used for any new type of injury. As far as muscle pain goes, some people prefer using ice over heat, but for others it may be visa versa. Use whatever feels best for you!