People are active today playing sports and exercising. This can make someone more prone to an occasional sore or strained muscle. You may be confused on whether you should use heat or ice on this sore muscle. It all depends on when you first encountered the soreness and whether or not it is chronic in nature.
The First 48 Hours
If you have strained a muscle or just incurred soreness, it is best to ice the affected area the first 48 hours. This is because the inflammation in the muscle is at its worst during the first two days. Blood and fluid are suffused in the muscle tissue as the body attempts to heal the injury or soreness. Ice also helps reduce the pain through vasoconstriction, which reduces the amount of blood flow to the muscle.
Rest and Ice
You need to rest your sore or strained muscle and give it time to heal. Rest along with ice also will limit the blood flow to the area, as sore or strained muscles often go into spasms initially. You do not want to worsen the injury or cause any additional pain. Refrain from all activity until the inflammation and pain subsides. If you are under a doctor's care, she will indicate the approximate amount of time that you will need to rest.
Compression and Elevation
Compression simply means keeping ice pressed against the injury. Ice packs can be used for compression, or you can hold an ice bag or pack of frozen vegetables against your sore muscle. Keep the ice compressed against the muscle for 20 minutes, then repeat every few hours as needed (the Mayo Clinic recommends every four to six hours). The frequency of applications largely will be dictated by the severity of your injury.
Keep your sore muscle elevated above the level of your heart as much as you can. This will minimize the blood flow to the area and foster the healing process.
When To Use Heat
You should use heat after the swelling and pain subside. At this point, you will want to promote blood flow to the area. The blood has healing properties that can help you get over your injury and soreness. Heat also relaxes the muscle and helps to alleviate pain. Heating pads or hot baths and saunas can be used two or three times daily at 20-minute intervals.
Interspersing Heat and Ice
Once you resume activity, you may have occasional swelling in the sore muscle. Thus, alternating heat and ice can expedite the healing process if your injury lingers. Of course, you will need to see a doctor for more chronic soreness as it may be related to another health problem.
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