In a nutshell, ice is used on injuries while heat is meant for muscles. Ice is meant to be used for calming damaged superficial tissues that are swollen, red, inflamed, and hot. Although the inflammatory process is a natural, normal, and healthy process, it can also be biologically stubborn and incredibly painful than it needs to be. Icing, in a mild, drugless way, reduces the pain of inflammation. Heat, on the other hand, is used for stress, chronic pain, and muscles. It is used to take the edge off the pain of trigger points and muscle spasms or any other conditions like neck pain and back pain. Heat soothes the mind and the nervous system.
The use of ice and heat should not be mixed up because ice can make muscle spasms and tension worse and heat can make inflammation worse. If for example you make use of heat when you’re already sweating, or you make use of ice when you’re shivering, the brain may interpret the excess as a threat, and this may also amp up the pain. Most especially, heat and inflammation are a bad combination. Adding heat to a fresh injury will make it worse.
Icing a painful muscle can also make the pain get worse. This is because it can provoke the sensation of muscle stiffness and pain, which is most present in neck pain and back pain. If care is not taken, painfully sensitive spots or trigger points can be surprisingly intense and easily mistaken as “iceable” inflammation and injury. Also, when trigger points are iced, it may lead to acute ache and burn. This mistake is most common when handling neck pain and back pain.
How to Take Care of Injured Muscle
Now we know only injuries should be iced. However, it can be a tough call on how to take care of injured muscles like having a muscle strain or muscle tear. Whichever way, for a true muscle injury, ice will always win for the first few days of the injury. It is a true muscle injury if there are sudden severe pain and obvious trauma during intense effort. For torn muscles, ice should be used to take the edge off the inflammation for the first few days, and when the worst is over, heat should be switched to.
Choosing Between Ice and Heat
Heating pads and ice packs are not powerful medicines because studies have shown that they only have mild benefits that are almost equal to treating back pain. The bottom line of heating pads and ice packs is that: use what’s best for you. The most important thing to consider is your preference. If for example you don’t want to be heated, or you feel unpleasantly flushed, heat cannot help you. It’s also the same thing if you have a chill, and you hate being iced. Also, if you’ve started using ice and you don’t like the feel of it, switch to heat. The same thing applies to if you’ve started using heat and you don’t like the feel of it, switch to ice.