Updated: Jul 8
We can experience all sorts of muscle pains, but how do we know which therapy to use to reduce the pain? Ice or Heat? Here are a few ideas to consider when reaching for your heat compress or your ice pack.
Heat causes vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels, whereas Ice therapy causes vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels. Heat applications transfer heat TO the body, whereas cold applications transfer heat FROM the body. Our bodies use processes of thermoregulation to help maintain our core temperature in either instance.
Know when to pick ICE or HEAT:
Here is a great chart from International Sports Science Association listing out the proper times to use either application:
Use HEAT when the injury is chronic or recurring. Use heat for pain relief for problems such as stiffness, muscle tension, or stress.
Use ICE when the injury happened within 72 hours, and your goal is to reduce inflammation or swelling. Use ice for pain relief for problems like a new pulled muscle, recovery from an intense workout, or after surgery.
It is advised that you do not use heat on a new or acute injury, since this will only add more inflammation because of the added blood flow.
Do not use ice on stiff joints, if you have poor circulation, have high blood pressure, open wounds or anesthesia.
There are a wide range of options for either hot or cold therapy, including ice baths, cryotherapy, sauna therapy, heat packs, ice packs, etc. Please read about each option as some of these may bring specific contraindications that you may need to be aware of.
In my everyday massage sessions:
I enjoy incorporating heat packs during my massage sessions for my clients because it brings calm to their nervous system, bringing gentle warmth to their muscles and allows for further relaxation- and they let me know they enjoy it when they let out a nice long sigh when I place it on their upper backs...
Feel free to request the use of a heat pack for your next in-home session (I'd just need to borrow your microwave) :) All In-Studio sessions at Peace in the Forest include the use of relaxing heat packs:
You can use heat/cold packs at home, too. Personally, I love to heat up my small pack in the microwave for about 30 seconds every morning and place it inside the back of my pants, helping to alleviate tension in my low back. It feels so nice and helps me get my day going.
I have created some heat/ice packs, too, if you're interested in purchasing any so you too can enjoy the benefits of this therapy at home. These are handmade, with love! They include flax seed and dried lavender, for a subtle aroma that brings added stress relief. I have created many different sizes/shapes/fabric patterns. Feel free to message me about purchasing any. They range from $20-40, depending on size. Flax seeds are shown to retain heat better than other fillers like rice or beans.
As always, thank you for reading and please let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns.
4. Massage Therapy Principle and Practice, Susan Salvo, 5th edition.
The content in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, or as a substitute for medical advice of a physician. Thank you.