How to Compare the Benefits of Ice and Heat on Muscles

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Ice and heat are the most beneficial treatments used for sore muscles. Ice therapy, or cryotherapy, is used to reduce swelling and blood flow, which decreases pain. Heat therapy, or thermotherapy, is used to increase blood flow to continue the healing process as well as to relax muscles. In order to determine whether to use ice or heat on sore muscles, compare the benefits of both.

  • Determine whether your muscles have inflammation or bruising. Once muscles fibers are stretched too far or torn, your body responds by increasing blood flow to remove cellular waste. Too much inflammation causes blood to become congested and block oxygenated blood from reaching the muscles.

  • Use ice instead of heat to reduce the inflammation and swelling. Ice benefits inflammation, because it slows down blood flow compared to heat, which increases blood flow. Ice the muscles within the first 24 hours to reduce the inflammation. The cold will slow down the massive blood flow to your muscles initially.

  • Continue to ice the muscle at least three times a day (every 6 hours). Make sure your skin returns to its normal temperature before applying more ice. After the first 24 hours, ice the muscles once in the morning, in the afternoon and at night. The inflammation and pain should subside within 72 hours.

  • Compare muscles that are tight to muscles with inflammation. Muscles fibers become constricted and need to be loosened by an increase of blood flow.

  • Apply heat instead of cold to tight muscles and before any exercise or strenuous activity. Heat benefits tight muscles by increasing their elasticity, making them easier to stretch. Loosening muscles before a workout will decrease soreness. The best home remedy method is soaking a towel in hot water, and then placing or wrapping it on the area. Other home methods include filling a water bottle with hot water and soaking in a hot bath.

  • Compare the precautions before using either ice or heat. Ice may be used more freely than heat. Heat has a greater risk of causing pain or burning if used incorrectly. Never put ice or intense heat directly on your skin. Always have a protective barrier between your skin, usually a hand towel or cloth.

Tips & Warnings

  • Reap the benefits of ice and heat with hot and cold packs. These are packs that apply both heat and cold in one pad. Most grocery stores and pharmacies carry hot and cold packs, as do online retailers such as Drugstore.com, Medical Products Online and America Rx (see Resources below).
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