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Heat vs Ice for Pain? – Let's Settle This Mystery

The world is full of great mysteries perplexing us for eons... the lost city of Atlantis, the great pyramids, the infield fly rule... and will someone finally please tell me “Who's on first”? But one of the biggest mysteries of all is whether to use heat or ice for pain. It's an important topic because so many people get it wrong, which does a lot more harm than good. So, we're here to break it down simply...

Pain relief with heat/ice

HEAT is for non-inflammatory pain – NEVER for fresh injuries or inflammation. (Think of it this way - what do you think happens when you put something hot on top of something inflamed? Ouch.) Heat is for relieving stiffness, soreness, aching, muscle knots, spasms, and tightness - it increases circulation and blood-flow to the muscles. This is why a hot shower or bath can do wonders. It's also good to warm muscles before stretching and activity. (Note: Well-made compression garments keep muscles and joints warm, helping to prevent pain during and after physical activity.)

ICE is for reducing inflammation, swelling and pain from fresh injuries – NEVER for general muscle soreness, achiness, or tightness. Icing (cryotherapy for the science nerds) is used for new injuries, ligament sprains, tendonitis, strained, pulled, or torn muscles. It reduces blood flow to the area, reducing inflammation and relieving pain. You can ice for several days with swelling (generally for 10 minutes at a clip, once an hour). But once the swelling subsides, it's recommended to then apply moist heat that gets into the muscles to loosen them once again.

Pain relief with ice

This is a simple explanation of a longtime conundrum, that we hope can be put to rest. There's a lot of great articles online that break it down further, but hopefully we solved this great mystery. But for heaven's sake, man, can somebody, anybody, please just tell me Who's on first?


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