What Is The Right Thing To Do? Use Ice Or Heat For Muscle Aches, Pains And Injuries?

We often see ice and heat packs being used in case of injuries, aches, and pains. However, it still remains a mystery what is right and which one is suitable for which situation. One thing is certain; they cannot be applied interchangeably due to the different effects they offer. Well here it is! Ice is used directly after a spontaneous injury while on the other hand heat relieves continuous pain.

Ice narrows the blood vessels, which in turn prevents accumulation of blood at the area surrounding the injury. This is very helpful as it restricts the blood flow to the area and thus minimizes swelling.

A broadly accurate guide in regard to injury you need to remember is RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. To reduce damage and alleviate pain, ice the area for 48-72 hours.

You should apply ice for 20 minutes every hour. Don’t overdo it as it may damage the skin and even cause frostbite. Wrap the ice around the affected area to minimize swelling, applying a towel between the skin and the ice to protect the skin.

When to Use Heat…

Applying a heat pack helps bring blood flow to the area, which soothes pain, increases flexibility, and promotes accelerated healing. As the blood flow increases, the flow of oxygen and nutrients increases as well.

Heat can be used as pre-workout warm-up and as a joint pain reliever as well. It is recommended to opt for heated water bottles or hot gel packs instead of electric heating pads, which are associated with the risk of electromagnetic field exposure.

Heat packs work great for chronic pain which doesn’t involve swelling. Apply the heat for 20 minutes and use a cloth between the skin and the ice to protect the skin, as with ice.

Physical therapists and trainers often recommend another strategy, which combines both heat and cold. Apply heat for about 20 minutes and then follow with 20 minutes of cold.

Another Way to Use Heat: Hyperthermic Conditioning

Heat-shock proteins are used by the cells to act against potentially detrimental stimulus. In a case when a cell is exposed to an unfriendly environment, the DNA separates and starts reading the genetic code to produce stress proteins.

These proteins are beneficial as they repair damaged proteins and also work as a preventive measure against such damage. They are induced by heat, which makes sauna a treatment of great benefit.

According to Rhonda Perciavalle Patrick, Ph.D.,increasing the core temperature for a short period of time, as with sauna, has an enormously positive effect on your athletic performance.

She calls this concept “hyperthermic conditioning,” which mounting evidence suggests has a beneficial effect on the body, from the growth of new brain cells to increased endurance.

Hyperthermic conditioning, or “acclimating yourself to heat independent of aerobic physical activity through sauna use,” increases endurance as it induces modifications in the body which make it easier for the body to perform when the temperate is increased.

In brief, when the body undergoes heat stress, it becomes adapted to the heat, promoting many beneficial changes in the body.

The Benefits of Sauna Use

As the body acclimates to heat stress, these adaptations include blood flow to the heart and muscles, increased plasma volume, and increased muscle mass.

According to a study, those who had a 30-minute sauna session two times a week over the course of three weeks after their workout increased their time it took to run until exhaustion by more than 30%.

It has been shown that daily sauna reduces men`s risk of death from fatal heart problems in half, when compared to those who used sauna only once a week.

Benefits of Sauna

  • Increased blood flow to skeletal muscle (known as muscle perfusion) and other tissues
  • Reduced rate of glycogen depletion due to improved muscle perfusion
  • Increased red blood cell count
  • Increased efficiency of oxygen transport to muscles
  • Improved cardiovascular mechanisms and lower heart rate
  • Lower core body temperature during workload
  • Higher sweat rate and sweat sensitivity as a function of increased thermoregulatory control

General Sauna Recommendations

By heating the tissues a few inches deep, the infrared sauna improves your natural metabolic processes and blood circulation.

Given the fact that it helps oxygenate your tissues, it also stimulates the natural detoxification process. Moreover, it restores skin elimination, eliminates toxic load, and provides relief of pain and muscle tension.

For optimal results, you should expose the body to heat with caution. Start with a few minutes and increase the time gradually. It is recommended to try a maximum of 4 minutes when starting out.

Add about 30 seconds for each sauna and make a progress to somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes. Consider the general sauna recommendations:

  • Infrared sauna: 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit, for 15-30 minutes
  • Regular sauna (Finnish wet or dry): 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit, for 10-20 minutes
  • Do not use a sauna if you’ve been drinking alcohol
  • Avoid saunas during pregnancy
  • Don’t use a sauna by yourself
  • Always listen to your body when deciding how much heat stress you can handle. If you’re ill or heat sensitive, decrease the temperature, time spent in the sauna, or both
  • Be sure to drink plenty of pure water before and after your sauna session. To replace electrolytes, add a pinch of Himalayan pink salt, which is rich in natural microminerals
  • You may want to rest either sitting or lying down for about 10 minutes afterward

When to Use Cold-Water Baths…

Just like with heat, exposing the body to cold temperatures also has a beneficial effect on your health.

In one animal study, cold exposure induced the expression of HSPs in brown fat, the implications of which are as yet unclear. It is believed that cold-induced expression of heat-shock proteins may stimulate thermogenesis in beneficial brown fat and, on a much broader scale, that exposing your body to reasonable amounts of both cold and heat stress may actually be of great benefit.

Brown fat is a heat-generating type of fat which burn energy rather than storing it, which is believed to have a huge impact on weight loss. In one study, researchers exposed men to cold temperatures and managed to activate brown fat. According to a 2009 Swedish research, cold temperatures increased the activity in participants` brown fat.

Based on animal models, researchers estimate that just 50 grams of brown fat could burn about 20 % of your daily caloric intake.

Taking cold water and ice baths on a regular basis, also known as ‘cryotherapy’ is often used by athletes, both amateur and professional ones. It is believed that it reduces pain and inflammation after exercise and it accelerates the recovery time.

After examining 17 trials involving 360 participants who either rested or plunged in cold water after resistance training, running or cycling,  the researchers discovered that cold-water baths are more effective in providing relief of sore muscles 1-4 days after exercise.

You need to be extra cautious when it comes to using cold-water immersion. The cold water shocks the body, so you need to make sure that you don’t stay too long in.

Brief Exposure to Cold Water Might Promote ‘Hardening’

Exposing the body to cold water for very short periods of time is used to encourage “hardening”. Hardening refers to the exposure to a natural stimulus, such as cold water, which leads to increased resistance to disease or stress. This has been shown by a study involving 10 healthy subjects who swam in ice-cold water during the winter. In regard to their exposure to cold water, the researchers found:

  • “Drastic” decrease in uric acid levels:High levels of uric acid are associated with gout, but it has been long known that people with high blood pressure, kidney disease, and people who are overweight often have high uric acid levels. When the uric acid level exceeds about 5.5 mg per deciliter, you have an increased risk for developing diseases like kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver, obesity, and hypertension.
  • Increase in glutathione: Glutathione is the most potent antioxidant in the body, which keeps all other antioxidants functioning optimally.

Consider the following options you can try out in case you decide to try any type of cold-water immersion:

  • Take cold showers
  • Immerse yourself in ice water up to your waist for ten minutes, three times a week.
  • Place an ice pack on your upper back and upper chest for half an hour a day
  • Drink about 500 ml of ice water each morning

Read also: What Causes Fatty Liver Disease And How To Know If You’re At Risk?