When deciding whether to use heat or cold to treat your muscle injury, it’s helpful to know if you have an acute or chronic problem. An acute injury is one that comes on rapidly, but is short-lived. Chronic pain, on the other hand, develops slowly over time and can be persistent and long-lasting. The first type usually develops immediately or within hours of an injury while the second can develop due to overuse or repetitive motions. You can also develop chronic injuries when you don’t receive the proper treatment for acute injuries.
Typically, cold is most appropriate for acute injuries and heat is a better bet for chronic injuries. Placing an ice pack on an acute injury immediately helps to reduce pain and swelling because ice is a vasoconstrictor. That means it causes your blood vessels to narrow and reduces internal bleeding at the original site of the injury.
To treat your injury with cold therapy, place several ice cubes in a thin towel and wrap it tightly closed. Hold the towel against your skin for approximately 10 minutes at a time. You can repeat this process after you have allowed enough time for your skin temperature to return to normal. It’s fine to apply an ice pack several times a day for up to three days after your injury.
If you’re a competitive or recreational runner or frequently participate in other intense physical activities, you may be able to prevent knee injuries by placing an ice pack on them immediately after your workout. This helps to reduce inflammation before it reaches the point of causing chronic pain. Try to choose a cold pack that conforms to the part of your body you need to ice. A bag of frozen peas can work well too.
Heat is ideal to treat chronic injuries that do not involve inflammation or swelling. It helps to reduce the pain associated with stiff and sore muscles and joints. Placing a heat pack on your affected muscles before you start exercising can reduce the pain you feel currently and prevent new episodes of pain from developing. That is because heat stimulates blood flow and increases the elasticity of the connective tissues in your joints. Additionally, heat can stop a muscle spasm and relax muscles that feel too tight.
It’s important to avoid applying heat to acute injuries with symptoms of inflammation. The reason for this is that heat raises your skin temperature and increases your circulation. You can safely use a heat pack on your skin for approximately 15 minutes. Just be sure to have enough of a layer between the heat pack and your skin so you don’t accidentally burn yourself.
A heating pad that you buy at a store and plug in for it to get warm works well on most types of muscle injuries. However, moist heat tends to work better. For the best results, try using a hot and wet towel. Never go to bed with a heat pack still on your skin, no matter which type you prefer to use. Not only will your skin become much too warm, but you also run the risk of starting a fire with the electric type of heating pad.
Contact Us if You Don’t See Any Improvement Within 48 Hours
If your pain doesn’t subside at all, schedule an appointment with an orthopedist at the Bruce Carter United Orthopaedic and Spine Center. Since we can’t see your muscles, we may order an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan for diagnostic purposes. Depending on what we learn, we may recommend physical therapy, drug therapy, muscle relaxers, or whatever is most appropriate for your situation.
Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.