Don’t let pain keep you from the things you love any more.
So maybe you over did it. You wake up in the morning and you are in pain. No worries you think, just get up and moving, that will do it. Just kidding, the day goes on and you’re still in pain, in fact, it’s getting worse.
A little soreness after activity is normal. A lot of soreness or soreness that sticks around for days is telling you that it’s time to do something.
So the million dollar question is – Do you put ice or heat on the area?
This is a question we get asked almost everyday by clients. It can be confusing, so let’s make it easy for you to remember so you can eliminate soreness and get back to doing more of what you love.
If you’re like most of our clients you probably put heat on sore muscles. Heat can feel really good initially but can cause you to be sore longer, sometimes applying heat to muscle pain can turn it into chronic pain that is even harder to get rid of. Let’s look at why.
Your muscles are sore typically from misuse, disuse or overuse. In other words, using muscles incorrectly, not using your muscles enough or using them too much. Regardless of which category you fall under what causes your muscles to be sore is a lack of adequate circulation and a build up of metabolic waste.
Think of your muscles as a river. When they are working well, the water flows easily. In this case water is your circulation. Blood carries fresh oxygen and nutrients to keep you muscles functioning at their best. If the water is flowing it can easily manage any waste material that accumulates along the shore or in the water. If there is a damn or something in the flow of the water, think misuse, disuse or overuse; the waste material will build up and in time you now have a scummy bog. Gross!
What about heat?
When we apply heat to our muscles it increases circulation and draws fresh blood to the area. Remember, blood has oxygen and other nutrients that our muscles need to heal. That is why initially, heat feels so good. What happens though is that because the muscle isn’t working well (a.k.a. the water isn’t flowing well) once you’ve increased circulation there is nowhere for it to go. Think about adding clean water to a dirty pond. The clean water just gets dirty.
After applying heat you now have more fluid and more waste material in the tissue causing it to be stiff and sore and painful.
So heat is not the answer.
Ice ice baby.
When I say ice, it can be anything cool. A cold rag, an ice pack covered in a towel (don’t ever apply ice directly to your skin), a cold bottle of water. Anything that will cool the surface of the skin.
Ice causes the muscle to contract which sounds counter intuitive because the muscle is already tight. By forcing the muscle to passively contract (exercise would be an active contraction) the muscle starts to flush out the metabolic waste. Think about squeezing out a dirty sponge.
When you remove the ice your body’s natural instinct is to warm up the area. How does it do that? by increasing circulation. By bringing fresh blood to the area, remember that blood is carrying fresh oxygen and nutrients to help the muscle heal, the tissue can start the healing process on it’s own.
Depending on the severity of the pain and tension, icing the area twice a day for 5-10 minutes (remember don’t put ice directly on your skin) will increase range of motion, decrease tension and pain in no time.
If your pain doesn’t improve within a day or two, it’s time to call in the professionals. The sooner you can get a massage therapist to address your muscle pain the quicker it will heal. A trained massage therapist is the best of both worlds. Like heat, their skilled touch will increase circulation and bring fresh blood, nutrients and oxygen to the muscle tissue to help it heal. Like ice, massage therapists will compress the sore tissue to flush out anything in the tissue causing it to be sore and tight. Massage can decrease muscle pain quickly and also assess the injury to see if other interventions are necessary.
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