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Heat Or Ice For Sore Muscles? | Best Way To Relieve Sore Muscles

You’ve set yourself targets, trained hard, pushed yourself to the limit, but whether from neglecting your stretches and warm-ups or from pushing that little bit too hard, you find yourself with sore muscles. It happens and sometimes there is not much more you could have done to prevent it. You wanted those gains and you went for them, but the pain of those stiff, aching muscles is all of a sudden drastically outweighing the benefits.

The Damage Is Done. So Now What?

When you injure your muscles or are having difficulty getting back to 100 percent after suffering an injury or a particularly gruelling workout, along with other remedies, including elevating and resting your wounded limbs, you will know that reaching for the ice or heat is your best solution to the road to recovery.

But Which Works Best And When?

Here are a few answers to clear up the misconceptions about therapeutic ice and heat, and how you can use them to heal your muscles.

After a fleeting take-home message? Ice is for new injuries and heat is for those older aches and pains. Allow us to elaborate:

Remember that ice is for injuries. When a newly-occurred injury is fresh, you will experience inflammation, redness, heat and swelling around the damaged area. This is a result of the damaged superficial tissues of the affected muscle. Yes, it can be painful, but it’s also a natural part of the healing process that this discomfort occurs.

These superficial ailments can be treated on the spot without the use of medicine or ingesting anything by applying ice and a compress to the wound. This will help to counteract the swelling caused by inflammation, as well as the heat and redness. As a general rule, ice is best for fresh injuries like pulled muscles, and superficial ones, such as IT band syndrome.

So When Should You Bring The Heat?

Heat treatment is for long-term pain, stress and chronic injuries. In more general terms it is best for aches and stiffness as coldness can become an issue when an injured muscle or limb becomes inactive as a result of an injury, meaning it does not get the same circulation and warmth to it (not to mention the heat generated by working muscles). Good examples include old injuries to joints that have a tendency to freeze up in colder climates and chronic back pains.

There is also the occasion when both ice and heat are alternated as a part of treatment. This is called ‘contrasting therapy.’

Here is the part where we take a look at when things go wrong. Through misunderstandings or misconceptions, people may readily reach for something hot or cold and actually make things worse. The damage can often be temporary, but in the event of an injury when you want a quick fix, which is right and wrong?

As we previously noted: ice is for inflammation and freshly sore muscles. However, if your injury has occurred in the cold and you’re already goosebumped and shivering, ice is not the answer. For example, if you are on the side of the pitch on a cold rainy day, having hurt a muscle, your body may register any extra ice to the already cold wound as a threat. Accordingly, it may become more painful.

The next icy issue to be conscious of is the difference between a trigger point and a muscle pain. Trigger points are sensitive spots that can be very painful. When you experience this is can be easily confused with a muscle injury. The trouble is that icing a trigger point can make them more painful and increase the feeling of burning and aching. The most common cases of this occur in your neck and back.

Heat and inflammation are often synonymous. With fresh muscle injuries that are swollen and red, adding heat can make the symptoms worse. While ice can calm the swelling, heat can make it even bigger and considerably more painful.

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Take Home Message

There is a difference between pains and strains in your muscles. Unless you have medical training or x-ray vision, telling the difference can be difficult. As a general rule, ice is the answer, but only to a point. A serious muscle injury involves more obvious symptoms that will not go away with a touch of ice. For this reason, it is advisable that you use ice on fresh injuries for the first few days.

It is important to remember that ice and heat treatments are temporary fixes. Ice can relieve the pain and swelling of fresh injuries, and heat can help with chronic aches and stiffness, but they are not necessarily cured. When an injury prevails and compression and rest do not help, that’s when medical professionals and physiotherapists should be consulted.



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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye Reid has a Master of Science in Sport Physiology and Nutrition. She puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding. Find out more about Faye's experience here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/faye-reid-8b619b122/.

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