Ice It or Heat It?

The summer Olympics are in full swing and the world's top athletes are competing for the gold. Most of these athletes have been training from a very young age, constantly challenging their bodies to achieve new levels of athleticism. The constant stress of training and competing placed on the body typically manifests itself in the form of soreness, swelling, and sometimes injury.

Posted on | Michael Neely, DO | Comments ()

The summer Olympics are in full swing and the world's top athletes are competing for the gold. Most of these athletes have been training from a very young age, constantly challenging their bodies to achieve new levels of athleticism. The constant stress of training and competing placed on the body typically manifests itself in the form of soreness, swelling, and sometimes injury.

Regardless of your level of athleticism, if you have ever worked out, run, or trained, you have likely experienced muscle soreness, or injury. Common methods of dealing with muscle soreness and/or injury are the application of ice and/or heat. Below are some tips to guide you in how to apply ice or heat for maximum benefit.

 

Ice

Ice is usually recommended to use on an area that has inflammation, which causes it to be red, warm, swollen, and/or painful. Ice is usually used as part of the initial treatment for sprains and strains, and other injuries.

Ice treatments are generally recommended for 15-20 minute applications. It may be in the form of real ice or one of the commercial substitutes. These applications are commonly used 4-6 times during the first 48 hours after a soft-tissue injury.

It is crucial to always 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, using it for longer periods, or applying it too often could result in tissue damage – including frostbite!

Rest, compression and elevation are usually combined with the ice treatment for those two days. If the problem gets worse, or doesn’t show significant improvement in 48 hours, see a doctor or physical therapist.

Heat

Heat is generally recommended for chronic aches and pains, or new and minor muscular pains. People often choose a heat pack for problems like a stiff neck or a sore back. The muscles seem to relax under the warming therapy. The heat can help improve circulation and reduce muscle spasm. However, the application of heat could actually increase some inflammation issues. When in doubt, get a professional opinion.

Use heat therapy carefully. It is not usually recommended for people who have diabetes or peripheral vascular disease. Warm is the goal temperature. Not too hot. Too much heat can harm skin and tissue.

Heating pads provide dry heat. Things like steamed towels, whirlpools, or even baths can provide moist heat.

The number of ways to get heat to sore spots seems endless. There are reusable gel packs, paraffin treatments, and countless other choices.

Chronic back pain sufferers often choose the heat wraps. These wraps can be worn underneath clothes and they offer all day relief. Athletes often use warm whirlpools to reduce muscle pain. People with arthritis of the hands commonly find relief in a melted paraffin treatment. And many of the elderly swear that heated swimming pools were made just for their aching bodies. The type of heat treatment relies on professional recommendations and/or personal preferences.

These treatments are generally used for anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. But the benefits can linger long after the application has been removed. Most methods supply superficial treatment to the outside of the body. However, ultrasound and electrical current can provide heat that goes deep into the tissues.

Bottom line: Try ice for new injuries that cause pain, redness, and/or swelling. And choose heat for chronic pain or minor sore muscles to feel better sooner.

Blog written by Michael Neely, DO
Michael Neely, DO, is the Medical Director at NY Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy. He has dedicated his practice to the...