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Ice or Heat for your pain?

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.

Some science:

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.

How to 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.

In short:

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.

Make Note:

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!

I enjoy adding heat packs at the beginning of my massage sessions for my clients because it seems to immediately bring calm to their nervous system, bringing gentle warmth to their muscles and allowing for further relaxation. Feel free to request the use of a heat pack for your next session.

As always, thank you for reading and please let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

West Austin Massage






4. Massage Therapy Principle and Practice, Susan Salvo, 5th edition.

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