When your muscles have had a good workout and you’re feeling that overworked sensation should you reach for a hot pack or a bag of frozen peas? Like most things, what works for some may not work for others. There are a few things you need to tune into before deciding if heat or ice is better for you. Is your injury chronic? Do you have swelling? How severe is the pain?
Heat therapy helps by encouraging blood flow to the area. The dilated blood vessels send nutrient rich, oxygenated blood to the injury to help decrease pain and tension. Heat is great for chronic muscle soreness where it can help to relax muscle fibres. Different forms of heat therapy include heated gel packs, heating pads, hot baths, saunas or hot water compresses. Heat can be used on sore muscles for 15 to 20 minutes multiple times a day. Just be sure that your heat source is not too hot as it can burn your skin. It’s a great idea to put a towel over your skin before placing the hot pack on. There are some conditions such as diabetes, superficial skin issues, vascular disease and deep vein thrombosis where heat therapy should be avoided. Please consult your health care practitioner if you have questions about whether or not heat is safe for you.
If your soreness is due to inflammation then cold therapy will be a good option for you. Cold therapy is best for acute injuries and should be applied within the first 48 hours. It’s best to use an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to avoid any skin irritation. Ice can be used for 5- 15 minutes at a time every 2-3 hours. If you have chronic injury or stiff muscles and joints, nerve issues or experience poor circulation then cold therapy may not be a good choice for you.
It is ALWAYS recommended that you discuss the best options for you with your healthcare provider!