Heat and ice are easy and inexpensive self-treatment options that we can use at home with minimal risks, but have you ever wondered which alternative is more suitable for your particular problem?
According to the western approach, the rough idea that we have to understand is that ice is for injuries and heat is for muscles. Ice can help calm down damaged superficial tissues that are inflammed, red, hot and swollen. The inflammatory process is painful and stubborn and using ice would be a mild and drugless way of relieving the pain of inflammation. Ice can only be used for injuries that are less than six weeks old as ice constricts blood vessels which numbs pain, relieves inflammation and limits bruising. Ice can also help numb the throbbing pain of headaches. Ice should not be used for muscle tension and spasms as it can potentially aggravate sensations of muscle pain and stiffness or cause mild harm.
Heat, on the other hand, is more suitable for muscles, chronic pain and stress. It often takes the edge off of the pain of muscle spasms and trigger points and soothes the nervous system as well as the mind. However, heat and inflammation are a particularly bad combination as it may perpetuate the cycle of inflammation and be harmful. In the cases of arthritis or injuries that are more than six weeks old, heat can increase blood flow which relaxes tight muscles and relieve aching joints.
All in all, Ice packs and heating pads are not cure-all solutions and merely provide mild relief. If there is any persistent pain originating from muscles, it is always best to consult a professional deep muscle therapist to address the issue.