Heat and ice are treatment options that are recommended frequently by medical professionals when athletes are dealing with injuries. I often hear people saying that they have been told to use whichever one feels better or to switch back and forth between the two. However, there are right and wrong times to use each. So how do you know which one is best?
To help understand the reasoning behind when to use each, I will first describe the physiological effects of heat and ice, or what each one does to the body.
This is why ice is often recommended following an acute, or sudden injury, such as a muscle strain or an ankle sprain.
You should use ice in the first few days following an acute injury, or the first day of having muscle soreness after a hard workout.
Apply ice to the area for about 15-20 minutes to decrease any pain, swelling, and inflammation. It is also helpful to elevate the extremity while you are icing.
This is why heat is often recommended when you are feeling stiff or tight, or with chronic pain and overuse injuries to relieve pain and loosen muscle tissue.
You should use heat if you have chronic pain that has lasted for more than a few days, tightness in a muscle, or if you are still having muscle soreness a few days after a workout.
Heat should be used for about 15-20 minutes. It is also helpful to stretch following the use of heat to help assist with increasing muscle elasticity.
When using either heat or ice, it is important to have at least one-two layers, such as a towel or washcloth folded in half, between the skin and the cold/hot pack to help protect your skin. When applying a hot or cold pack to a joint such as the ankle or shoulder, it may be helpful to secure the pack on with a compression bandage to hold it in place.
To summarize, if you have a new injury, ice is the best choice. If you have been dealing with the injury or soreness for an extended period of time, then using heat will provide the best effects!
Disclaimer: The information contained on this website is compiled from a variety of professional sources as well as the author's own experiences. The information should NOT be used in place of a visit to your healthcare provider or used to disregard any advice provided by your healthcare provider.