Do you know when to use heat or ice?
Put simply, use ice or cold packs for acute or sudden injuries and heat for chronic or long-term pain.
There are two basic types of conditions: acute and chronic.
Acute conditions or injuries occur immediately and cause pain, usually due to some sort of impact or trauma, such as a fall, sprain, or collision.
When soft tissues are injured, the body initiates an inflammatory response. This is characterized by increased blood flow to the area, which leads to swelling and pain. The injured area will exhibit redness, feel tender to the touch, and may already be swollen.
Applying a cold pack to the injured area not only helps numb the nerve endings, but also helps reduce the swelling for less pain and a more speedy recovery.
The cause of chronic conditions is often harder to pinpoint, since chronic pain can be subtle and slow to develop. Chronic pain can be the result of overuse, but may come and go, regardless of your activity level.
Heat therapy should be used for chronic conditions. Another good tip is to use heat on injuries that have no inflammation or swelling. Examples include sore, stiff or nagging muscle or joint pain. Heat stimulates blood flow, which helps drive nutrients into the tissue (encouraging healing), and helps to relax tight muscles.
Generally speaking, heat is never applied immediately after exercise. Athletes with "old" injuries should use cold therapy immediately following a workout, and rely on heat later in the evening when muscle soreness sets in.