What’s Better for Stiffness - Ice or Heat?
The great debate when faced with a sprain or strain has always been ice versus heat: which is better? And when?
The official term for treatment with ice is cryotherapy and thermotherapy for heat. Both are very useful and necessary therapeutic approaches for dealing with soft tissue injuries. Let’s dig in and analyze the best uses for these techniques.
Cryotherapy: the use of ice, cold packs, and nitrogen sprays. If you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably seen the paramedic jump right into the field the moment a player is injured and use a spray on the affected member; that’s a nitrogen spray, and you’re observing cryotherapy in action. As you may have guessed, cryotherapy is best used for fresh and acute injuries. The idea is to cool down the affected area to minimize swelling and pain.
Outside of fresh injuries, ice can be used to bring down persistent swelling and relieve pain in inflamed soft tissue and articulations.
Thermotherapy: this technique works best with stiff muscles, chronic pain, and stress. It works by gently prying tense muscle fibers apart and favoring an improved blood circulation in the area under treatment. Thermotherapy works wonders when dealing with generalized muscle tension and stress.
Cryotherapy and thermotherapy were not lost on the ancients, who invested a lot of time and effort in building and maintaining hot and cold baths, as the Romans did. This was a way of treating many illnesses and soft tissue injuries amongst citizens.
Alternating between both applications is a third treatment method, called contrasting therapy. This is an extremely stimulating way to help injury recovery.
At any rate, you should be conscious that using either technique when unnecessary can be potentially harmful and can aggravate symptoms instead of helping. Using thermotherapy on an inflamed knee can be very bad as it is likely to cause greater swelling and pain. If you use ice on stiff muscles, they will react by getting stiffer.
When dealing with muscle pain, you can easily mistake a trigger point for an “iceable” injury. This is a common mistake and can aggravate the issue. Instead of ice, you should use your CTM band followed by thermotherapy as a finisher.
The main thing is to diagnose what you’re dealing with before choosing ice or heat. If in doubt, consult a professional.