Treating Sports Injuries: Ice or Heat?

Treating Injuries

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Training is great for your performance and keeps your body in optimal shape. However, one small tweak or over worked muscle, then pain and injury set in—and that can sideline your performance. So what's the best solution for optimal recovery? Do you run to the freezer or furnace?

This is a common question with lots of confusion. Let's clear up why you need to ice or heat an injury. There's not one that wins over the other, it just depends on your injury. A good rule of thumb to remember: Ice is for injuries and heat is for muscles.

Ice helps to numb sharp pain and reduce inflammation while Heat helps to relax stiff joints and muscles.

Why Use Ice

Ice calms down damaged tissues that are inflamed, red and swollen. Inflammation is a normal, healthy process that can also be painful. Ice therapy is a mild medication to dull pain and inflammation.

Ice should be applied after exercise to the area of injury using a towel to protect the skin. If you have a chronic injury, apply ice and compression after a workout. Use cold gel packs, such as Chattanooga, and wraps like Durasoft to help constrict blood flow and reduce pain.

Ice for 15 to 20 minutes.

Why Use Heat

Heat reduces muscle pain, stiffness and spasms. It increases the blood flow to soothe the nervous system and relax your joints and muscles.

Heat can be used before exercising to loosen up tight muscles. To apply heat, use a heating pad, a hot wet towel or warm shower.

Heat for 15 to 20 minutes.

When to Ice or Heat an Injury

  • Ice Injuries Less Than Six Weeks Old: Ice restricts blood vessels, which numbs the pain. This also reduces inflammation and lessens the amount of bruising.
  • Heat Injuries More Than Six Weeks Old: Heat gets the blood flowing, which relaxes and loosens tight muscles and relieves sore muscles.

In Conclusion

If you have a muscle tear or strain, you'll experience severe sudden pain, swelling and bruising. If the muscle is torn, use ice to bring down the inflammation. Once the worst is over, switch to heat. If you have a back spasm or just aches for over worked muscles and joints, go ahead and use the heat to soothe any pain.

As always, speak with your doctor if pain or injury continues or worsens.

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