Should You Use Heat or Cold for Sore Muscles?

There isn’t an athlete on the planet who is unfamiliar with muscle soreness after an intense workout. Many people choose to help alleviate some of this soreness and improve recovery time to get back into the game faster by using either thermotherapy (heat) or cryotherapy (cold). Both have been proven to relieve muscle pain, but which one is best? To answer this old question, it’s important to take a look at what each one does to your body, since one may be better than the other depending on your situation.

Cryotherapy (Cold)

When your muscles are inflamed or swollen or you’re experiencing pain from a more serious injury, applying cold therapy (such as an ice pack or ice bath) helps restrict the blood flow to the area, numbing the muscles and slowing the swelling process. This helps limit your nerves from transmitting pain messages to your brain, giving you relief.

It’s important to note, however, that while this does relieve pain, it does not heal injuries, nor does it have nearly the same effect on back pain or injuries that are more than a few days old. That being said, if you do take a knock to a knee or a finger and begin experiencing some swelling, applying ice for at least 20 minutes every 4-6 hours can greatly reduce the pain you experience.

Thermotherapy (Heat)

Whereas cold therapy reduces the blood flow to a particular area of the body, heat therapy does exactly the opposite: encourages blood flow. Doing this can help a muscle that is tight or inflamed to relax and allow blood to remove any wastes like lactic acid from the area.

Similarly, heat therapy has tremendous benefits for back pain and older injuries, as well as for areas that may be harder to reach with a cold compress, such as deep tissues. However, you want to avoid heating injuries that are already hot, such as fresh injuries or burns. Blood is already flowing rapidly through these areas, and you will be better off slowing the swelling and numbing your pain sensors first.

Which One Should I Use?

In the event of a hard workout with general muscle soreness and large amounts of lactic acid buildup, resting with a cold compress for about 20 minutes and then treating it again with heat later to re-encourage blood flow is the best way to reduce the pain and speed healing times. Continue to heat extra sore areas for longer and you should notice a considerable increase in pain relief.

For more serious injuries, such as swollen joints, you will want to focus on cold therapy a little more closely. The Mayo Clinic advises that you ice your injury as soon as possible for at least 20 minutes and do this every 4-6 hours for three days. Between ice treatments, applying heat can also re-encourage blood flow and encourage self-healing while the swelling and tightness of injured muscles is reduced.

When you need a sports injury doctor in Manhattan, trust the professionals at Manhattan Sports Therapy. Dr. Rolland Nemirovsky specializes in treating all kinds of sports injuries using the latest techniques, and treats everybody from professional athletes and celebrities to your neighbor next door. Whether a small injury or a major condition, trust Manhattan Sports Therapy to provide you with top-quality treatment.

Call Manhattan Sports Therapy to schedule an appointment today at (646) 798-1330.