It’s an age old question – Should you ice it or apply heat? Sports medicine professional have worked with injuries long enough to know what to do, but when an injury happens at home, how do you know what to do? It boils down to one sentence:
“Ice is for injuries, but heat is for muscles.”
Sounds simple enough, right? Sometimes it’s not that easy. You need to know what you’ve injured and how you’ve injured it before you can treat it properly. See an athletic trainer or make an appointment with your doctor if you are unsure!
When to go cold
Icing an injury is great for minimizing the inflamed or swollen tissues. Twisted ankles and sprains are very common and are best to ice. Inflammation is part of the healing process, but it can be painful. Ice can also help keep the pain minimal, while making sure the swelling isn’t causing any more damage.
Icing reduces narrow blood vessels and prevent blood from pooling near the injury. If the blood pools, it can actually slow down the healing process. Keep icing an injury for about 2-3 days after it occurs. Apply the ice for 20 minutes of every hour. Don’t leave it on too long and risk giving yourself frostbite.
When to heat it up
Muscle spasms or pulled muscles are what you need heat for. Heat helps loosen cramping or injured tendons and ligaments and prevent stiffening. It’s also a great way to soothe the surrounding nerves that are causing pain. Applying heat and rest are key to kicking off the healing process.
Don’t mix them up
Knowing when to break out the ice or the heat can be important. Apply heat to an inflamed injury can actually make the inflammation worse. If you ice a cramp or strain, it can make your muscles contract even harder. If you don’t know which one to use, it’s always best to ask a professional. Make a quick call to your doctor and ask their opinion.
Ice vs. Heat: Which One Should You Use?