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Should I Ice or Heat My Sports Injury?

If you’re into sports or fitness at all, you’re probably aware of the simple home remedy of ice or heat to relax and heal sore muscles. Both can help remove waste products and bring in healing cells by increasing blood flow to a particular area of the body. However, using the wrong one can actually slow the healing process and even make the injury worse, so you want to make sure you get the right one. On this blog, we’ll take a look at which one is right for a particular injury, and how to properly apply both treatment remedies.

Determining which to use can be made easier if you understand how both treatments work. Applying heat to an injury helps it heal by allowing more blood flow to the area, activating the vasodilating receptors and bringing healing cells to the area. However, for injuries that result in a lot of swelling, this is not ideal. When you are injured, you also injure the blood vessels, resulting in fluid leaks in the area, which create fluid buildup, resulting in the swelling. Applying heat encourages more blood flow to the area, resulting in more fluid escaping through these leaks and increasing the swelling.

On the other hand, icing an injury is the best treatment to bring in blood flow while reducing swelling. Icing an injury deactivates the vasoconstrictor in the blood vessels, which increases blood flow to the area but doesn’t further injure already leaky blood vessels. As a result, you get all of the benefits of blood flow, along with a reduction in swelling. Icing an injury is also effective because a 20-minute ice treatment actually gives you 40 minutes of healing—it takes an additional 20 minutes for the vasoconstrictor to go back to normal.

Which Type for Which Injury?

So now that you know how these two methods actually work, which one do you use for your injury?

If your injury is acute, meaning that you have injured it directly as a result of your sports, such as a sprained ankle, jammed digit, swollen knee, etc., then ice is the way to go for at least the first three days. You will want to begin icing it as soon as possible using a plastic bag filled with ice and a little bit of water. Place it on your injury directly for 20 minutes at a time at least three times per day.

For older injuries where the swelling has subsided or for sore muscles (such as muscle fatigue after a hard workout), heat is the better choice. Heat helps encourage blood flow to these areas, and so long as there is no swelling or blood vessel damage, you will see the maximum benefit from the relaxation heat can bring to your sore spots. Additionally, you should always use heat for back injuries, even if you have thrown your back out while at work or lifting something heavy. Back injuries rarely swell and are almost always muscular, so apply heat generously until you can see us in person for a chiropractic visit.

If you an athlete, fitness enthusiast, or even someone who just likes to get their regular exercise, you likely know of the importance of seeking high-quality medical care if you become injured. Dr. Rolland Nemirovsky of Manhattan Sports Therapy specializes in treating all types of sports-related injuries. As a Manhattan sports medicine doctor, he understands the importance of seeking effective and rehabilitative treatment that can get you back on your feet and in the game as quickly as possible. His practice is specifically focused on physical rehabilitation, which means that your injury is in the hands of a well-trained and uniquely-focused staff determined to help you get back to full strength.

To schedule an appointment, call Manhattan Sports Therapy today at (646) 798-1330.