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Should I use Ice or Heat?(Common Injury Question)

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

It’s a question a lot of people have when training:

“I’m hurting after that workout yesterday, so do I ice it or use heat?”

It’s inevitable: you stretch and stay hydrated but you still sometimes get injured during a workout. So what do you do with the nagging pain, do you ice it or use heat?

Cryotherapy (cold therapy) and thermotherapy (heat therapy) have long been the choices for relieving pain, but they are appropriate for different situations.

Much of the choice depends on the person and the injury, but a little basic knowledge about each strategy can help you make the right choice every time.

What Happens When You Ice?

First, let’s take a look at what icing actually does to your body. Skin receptors pick up different sensations, like pressure and temperature. Our skin has more cold receptors than heat receptors.

When the skin senses a cold temperature, it activates the cold receptors and these block some of the sensation of pain.

Icing also causes vasoconstriction—the narrowing of blood vessels. This decreases the blood flow and helps to slow down the inflammatory response. When an injury is inflamed, the area may be swollen, red, and warm to the touch. Applying ice helps to reduce or even prevent the inflammatory response.

When to Ice…

There are a few different situations in which you should use ice:

  • If the injury is acute, or sudden, you use ice to help relieve and prevent swelling by reducing blood flow to the area. For example, if you sprain your ankle working out, reach for a bag of frozen peas to reduce the swelling. The sooner you ice, the better the effect will be.

  • Ice can also be helpful for many soft tissue injuries. For example, ice after a tough exercise to relieve muscle soreness and shorten recovery time.