The number one question I get asked about in my massage practice is – “Should I use heat or ice?”
The answer depends on why you have pain.
Is the pain specific to a particular injury? And if it does- what kind of injury is it, and where you are in the healing process? Or is the pain chronic and related to stress or trigger points in the muscles?
When did the injury happen?
Most of the time if the injury has just happened (within the last 48 hours) ice is the answer. When the body is injured, it reacts with an inflammatory response. In other words, there is swelling at the injury site.
By applying ice to the affected area, you reduce inflammation and in the process recovery time is reduced.
What if I didn’t injure myself but just have sore muscles?
Heat helps tense muscles to relax, which will temporarily relieve pain caused by overworked or chronic muscle tightness.
Chronic pain usually involves tight muscles and trigger points. A good massage will always help with chronic pain, but since this article is about what to do between massages, this is where heat therapy plays a role.
Apply a heating pad to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes, twice a day, to ease achy muscles. You can also heat up a rice bag in the microwave for the same results.
Here is a simple way to remember:
Acute injury specific = ICE
Chronic on-going pain or overworked muscles = HEAT