Icy vs Hot: When and How to Use These Therapies for Sore Muscles

Icy vs Hot: When and How to Use These Therapies for Sore Muscles

Following an injury, it’s important to use the right therapy to help the healing process. In this article, we’ll discuss two common forms of therapy as well as the appropriate methods for application.

Cold Therapy 101

Cold therapies are generally used to slow the rate of inflammation and reduce the risk of swelling and tissue damage. Using cold therapy is most effective within the first 48 hours following an injury and can be used to help treat swollen and inflamed joints or muscles.

Cold therapies can include using ice, whole-body cold therapy chambers, and cold water therapy just to name a few.

How to Use it Effectively

You might remember the acronym RICE from your high school health class, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. If you have a sports related injury then this should be one of your go-to forms of treatment.

It’s important to remember that when using ice, you’ll want to use a thin piece of cloth or some other barrier to avoid damaging skin and tissue. It’s best to use cold therapy in shorter periods, a few times a day, as opposed to long durations of time. Keep use to 10-15 minutes at a time and no longer than 20 minutes. Again, this is to prevent any damage to nerves, tissue, and skin.

When Not to Use

People who are unable to recognize or feel certain sensations, due to sensory disorders, should not use cold therapy without professional assistance because they may not be able to notice if damage is being done. In these situations, the trained professional will know what to look for and can properly guide the individual in using the therapy in a safe manner.

Avoid using cold therapy on stiff muscles or joints, or if you have poor circulation.

Heat Therapy 101

Heat therapy is generally applied to relax and soothe muscles and heal damaged tissue. By increasing temperature to a particular area, circulation and blood flow are improved.

The two types of heat therapy include dry heat and moist heat. However, don’t be confused by the name. While it’s called heat therapy, safe and healthy practices strive for “warm” instead of “hot” temperatures.

Dry heat therapies can include heating pads, dry heating packs, and saunas.

Moist heat therapies would include steamed towels, moist heating packs, and hot baths.

How to Use it Effectively

The size of injury usually determines the type of treatment. For smaller localized areas of pain, the treatment can be as simple as a heated gel pack. For larger regional injuries, such as widespread pain or stiffness, you could use a steamed towel or large heating pad. However, if full body treatment is required then your best options would be to sit in a sauna or hot bath.

When Not to Use

Avoid using heat therapy when the area is either bruised or swollen. You should also avoid using heat therapy on an open wound.

You would also want to avoid using heat therapy if you have certain pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, vascular diseases, or dermatitis. People with heart disease or hypertension, and women who are pregnant should consult with a doctor before using full body treatments like saunas and hot tubs.


When used correctly, cold and heat therapies can help ease pain and discomfort in a variety of situations. If pain continues, it’s always best to consult with a medical professional.

Asheley Rice

I am a pop culture and social media expert. Aside from writing about the latest news health, I also enjoy pop culture and Yoga. I have BA in American Cultural Studies and currently enrolled in a Mass-Media MA program. I like to spend my spring breaks volunteering overseas.

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