Warmer weather gets people moving and sometimes that comes with soreness. I often hear folks using ice or heat to nurture their sore muscles, but sometimes the recipe is off. Here are some guidelines to understand when to use ice and when to use heat.
First, both moist heat and moist cold are thermal agents. This means due to the moisture, the conductivity of the temperature penetrates deeper than temperatures without heat. For example a warm bath or hot tub is more relaxing than a heating pad or electric blanket. And an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables penetrates deeper than a topical icy-hot or Tiger Balm.
Therefore, to treat your muscles with the most care use a temperature application with moisture.
Using ice reduces inflammation. How do you know if you have inflammation? If the area looks red, swollen or if it’s been less than 48 hours since the injury – like rolling your ankle. Inflammation causes pain and while it may seem less than relaxing to add an ice pack to your body, reducing inflammation is guaranteed to reduce pain. In fact, too much inflammation degrades tissue – but that’s another post.
After 48 hours it’s time to move to heat which relaxes muscles. Why not use heat at the beginning? Because it brings blood with and we don’t want more fluid in an inflamed area. Not yet anyway. Once the heat has its way with you, it’s a great follow up with some gentle stretching and movement. Especially if you have more range of motion after the heat than you had prior. Gentle movement after ice is good too, but no deep stretching.
Use both applications for only 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off. There is a more scientifically exact number, slightly different for both ice and heat, making it challenging to remember. 10/10 for both is safe and effective. Super important to follow the intervals of on/off, otherwise the opposite effect will occur. Heat for too long will alert the body that it’s under duress and will respond by contracting the capillaries as a safety measure. When your muscles are stiff and sore, you don’t want anything contracting. Same for ice, too long of an application and the body thinks it’s submerged in an ice pond and it will force the heart to pump more blood in an effort to keep you alive. Just trust the 10/10 intervals with gentle movement in between and you’ll get all the benefit ice and heat can offer.
In optimal health,