You’ve just sprained your ankle, and it hurts. What do you apply – ice or heat?

You’ve been helping a friend move all day, and your entire body is sore. What do you apply – ice or heat?

A simple explanation is “Ice is for Injuries” and “Heat is for Fatigue.”

Ice calms damaged superficial tissues that are inflamed, red, hot, or swollen. The inflammatory process is a normal, healthy, process which usually is incredibly painful. Icing is a mild, drugless way of dulling the pain of inflammation. The general rule for icing is 15 minutes on, and 15 minutes off, and never apply ice directly to the skin. While heat often times feels better on injuries, it actually increases the inflammation, and shortly after the heat is removed, the injured body part feels worse!

Heat takes the edge off the pain of muscle spasms and general soreness from overuse. It relaxes the muscles and soothes the nervous system, as well as the mind. But like ice, if used incorrectly, it can cause more problems! Icing sore muscles can aggravate sensations of muscle pain and stiffness.

What should you do with injured muscles (a muscle tear or muscle strain)? A true muscle injury usually involves trauma during intense effort, causing sudden severe pain. If the muscle is truly torn, then use ice to take the edge off the inflammation. It also helps slightly constrict the muscle and expedite the healing process. Heat on a muscle tear can actually increase the tear, as heat expands the muscle.