We’re often asked about when ice and heat therapy should be used. As a basic ‘rule’, ice may be useful for injury and heat for muscle tension. But this isn’t as straight forward as it sounds; rules rarely are.
Which is better - ice or heat therapy?
Ice therapy, often in the form of a cold pack, reduces blood flow, swelling, and the perception of pain. That’s why shivering footy players hit the wintery sea to boost recuperation. In the first three to six hours following exercise, cold therapy can aid rapid recovery. But when used more than 24-hours afterward the benefits disappear.
Interestingly, heat therapy is also effective when it comes to the relief of post-exercise soreness. However, applying warmth continues to work beyond the 24-hour mark. It’s beneficial for longer.
With that said, ice therapy has a range of other benefits. Use this therapy to gain pain relief after surgical procedures, following muscle and bone injury and dysfunction, from gout, and to reduce acute pain.
Heat therapy has a variety of potential benefits, too. Use to increase blood flow, improve muscle function and strength, and enhance flexibility. Apply to reduce pain from rheumatoid arthritis, migraine, muscle knots, and more.
How do I apply each therapy correctly?
Use ice repeatedly in an on-and-off fashion. Twenty minutes on and an hour off is one traditional recommendation.
To benefit from heat, warm packs or wraps can be applied for hours at a time.
When used correctly, ice and heat are safe, cheap, and easy to use. Do note, though, that either treatment could injure tissues if extreme temperatures are applied; for example, an ice burn.
If you have any questions, please ask - we’re happy to discuss which approach is right for you.