There’s nothing like waking up the day after a good practice or workout and instantly feeling pain from your hard work. After you take a few achy steps, you think, “What will make this go away?” Ice and heat can help, but for good results you need to use them correctly.
Facts about muscle soreness
Exercise creates tiny tears in muscle that can cause soreness. Eventually, the muscle re-grows thicker and stronger, and the soreness goes away. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), usually peaks and subsides within 48 to 72 hours, causing no permanent damage. It is a normal part of training and requires no medical attention.
How to ice
It sounds simple: placing ice on the affected areas eases the pain. During DOMS, you may have a lot of inflammation and extra blood in the sore areas. Ice cools those areas, limits blood flow and reduces inflammation, easing the soreness.
For best results, cover the ice with a towel or other wrapping and apply it to the affected area for 20 minutes, then remove the ice for 20 minutes. Repeat this on/off application a couple hours at a time. Understand that direct skin exposure or longer application can cause frostbite, so be sure to protect yourself.
How to heat
Applying heat with a heating pad, hot tub, warm bath or steamed towel can be effective. But if you apply the heat too soon or for too long, you can actually prolong and increase muscle soreness. When a muscle is damaged, it is inflamed and suffering from increased, unwanted blood flow. Unlike ice, heat increases blood flow and inflammation. An increase in inflammation causes more pain, more inflammation and more discomfort.
But after a little time goes by, applying heat for a short duration (less than 15 minutes) can warm and stimulate the muscle.
When to ice or heat?
Knowing when to ice or heat sore muscles is essential for optimal recovery. Before training, heat is best because it stimulates the area and prepares it for activity. The muscle will have better blood flow, and the heat will warm the area to make it ready to work. But although a warm bath or a session in the hot tub sounds peaceful, use caution. Remaining in warm water for more than 15 minutes can cause more soreness. The same applies to heating pads.
Ice is the better choice for after a workout or practice. It cools your body down from the activity and reduces inflammation and blood flow, easing soreness.