Ice or Heat? Which to Use to Relieve Injuries and Sore Muscles

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ice-pack

Geri and I both have bad backs. One little project, one little declutter job, or for that matter, one little wrong move to pick up a pencil can throw our lower backs out for weeks.

Our most recent sore back episode led to the discussion “which is better for a sore back…ice or heat?” I always used to apply heat to my injured areas until my doctor told me that ice was better. Geri uses heat also. It feels so comforting and soothing. So I did a bit of research to find an easy way to remember which is best.

Remember this mantra: Ice for swelling; heat for relaxing muscles.

ICE: Let’s say you have a recent injury like twisting your ankle, or in our case, wrenching your back. The tissues are inflamed and swollen.  The swollen tissues press on your nerve endings, and you get pain.  So we need to bring the swelling down. Ice will help (along with some anti-inflammatory like Tylenol or Advil).  Use an ice pack, or if that’s not available, a frozen bag of peas.  Place on the injured area for 20 minutes.  Remove for 15 minutes. Repeat this for 3 to 4 hours.  Ice will help with inflammation for the first 48 hours when the injury first happens.  After that, the benefits subside.

HEAT: Now suppose you go to your aerobic class or do some gardening and overdo it.  Your muscles are sore.  This is when heat, and again, some pain reliever like Tylenol or Advil will help.  Heat helps relax and loosen tight muscles. It also helps bring blood flow to the area which will speed healing.  Don’t use heat when you have an acute injury since that’ll bring more blood to the area which will actually increase the swelling and pain. (See ICE above) Use a heating pad on low so you don’t injure your skin, portable heat wraps like ThermaCare, or soak in a tub of hot water.  And don’t use a heating pad for extended periods or overnight.

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