Ice or Heat to Ease Pain?

So, you have some pain and don’t know whether to apply ice or heat? Whether you deal with pain every day or every once in a while, you’ve come to the right place! However, I will start by telling you that I am not a health professional and although I wish I could, I cannot diagnose your pain. With all the research I have done, I have gathered this information and would love to share it with you all so you have a better idea as to what you should do to ease your pain. Many times, injuries are just temporary. Our muscles may be sore, our joints may feel stiff, or maybe you sprained an ankle! Ice and heat can help temporarily relieve the pain but if your pain is persistent, I would HIGHLY recommend that you seek a medical attention – you never know what type of injury you may have!

I’ve had to deal with ice and heat for many years, especially during my high school years of basketball, volleyball, and track and field. I can’t even begin to count how many times I opened the freezer to grab my loyal ice pack. Fast-forwarding to current times, I have experienced a few (minor) injuries – something that is to be expected because of my ever-so frequent visits to the gym. I’ve used both ice and heat to help ease my pain and they have been very effective, to say the least. I didn’t always know when to apply ice or heat, so I knew research had to be done on my end!

Applying Ice

Applying ice “constricts blood vessels and reduces swelling around the injury” and reduces inflammation. Ice is best for inflammation, sprains, acute pain, new injury, and areas that are red and/or swollen. Stay away from ice if you have muscle pain and stiffness as this pain can be further aggravated with the use of it. You should only apply ice for a maximum of 15-20 minutes, always remembering to have a thin layer of fabric between the ice pack and your skin. You can use an ice pack, frozen vegetables, etc. If you have very sensitive skin or are looking to ice an area of your body that has poor circulation, ice is probably not the answer. Seek a doctor to determine the best treatment for your pain.

Applying Heat

Heat does the complete opposite of ice – it “increase[es] blood blow to the area” by widening the blood vessels and “relaxes muscle fibers, which can help when you experience spasms or stiffness.” According to research, the increase in blood flow “improves tissue healing by supplying oxygen, protein, and nutrients to the site of the injury.” Heat is best for muscle pain or soreness, stiff joints, arthritis, and old injuries. You should only apply heat for a maximum of 15-20 minutes, always remembering to have a thin layer of fabric between the heating pad and your skin.

“When tissue is damaged, nerves send messages to the brain that are perceived as pain. Simultaneously, chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters begin a reflex that may lead to muscle spasms in the surrounding area. These spasms can potentially cause more tissue damage because of decreased blood flow to the area, and that can create more pain.” –BodyBuilding.com

In other words, PAY CLOSE ATTENTION to your body and care for it as much as you possibly can. If your problems persist, seek medical attention and do not ignore any pain. So, next time you feel pain, consider whether you need ice or heat and be sure to make time to take care of your body! If you’ve had any experiences with pain, let me know in the comments below how you dealt with them and whether ice or heat was successful in managing the pain!

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