Sports injuries happen to the best of us. According to the National Institutes of Health, the most common sports-related injuries are sprains and strains (followed closely by knee injuries). Most of us are familiar with the pain that accompanies a badly sprained or strained muscle, but less easy to identify is the recommended treatment protocol for these routine injuries. Heat or ice? Or both?? And how much, how often? Dr. Rajan Perkash (aka the “TRX Doctor”) is here to alleviate the confusion surrounding the heat versus ice debate, as he tackles a question posed by Josué, a member of the TRX Community.
I was prompted to ask this question after reading a recent "Ask the TRX Doctor" post. My question is, should I incorporate heat (as in a heating pad) and ice (as in an ice pack) before or after a workout? Are they beneficial in the treatment and prevention of injury, and is one recommended over the other?
As a general rule, in a healthy individual who performs an appropriate warm up before exercising and stretching after exercising, routine use of cold and hot modalities may not be of great benefit. However, in individuals with acute or chronic conditions, these modalities can be quite useful in controlling symptoms and reducing the risk of further injury.
In general, application of heat increases blood flow to a joint or muscle and increases the elasticity of soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons and muscles in the area. It can lead to temporarily increased flexibility and range of motion of a joint, tendon or muscle. Heat is also often used to help temporarily loosen the feeling of stiffness in chronic conditions such as arthritis of the joints or back. It should be applied for approximately 15 to 20 minutes at a time, for up to several times per day, to help with chronic pain or stiffness conditions such as arthritis. Heat should not be applied to any acute injury because it can increase swelling or inflammation in this setting.
Cold therapy or application of ice generally has the effect of decreasing blood flow to a joint or muscle. It is generally not useful prior to exercise, as the affected joint or muscle will have reduced blood flow, thereby hindering performance and flexibility. Cold therapy is often used to control pain and inflammation in an injured joint after exercising. If someone has a chronic injury such as knee or elbow tendinitis, it can be effectively used to control or limit pain and swelling of the affected limb after sports or exercise. Ice can decrease pain, swelling and inflammation when applied locally for an acute injury. It should not be used for more than 15 to 30 minutes at a time, as skin damage can occur with excessive use.
Evaluation by a physician should be sought prior to treating any significant injury with heat, ice or other modalities.
For more on how TRX Suspension Training bodyweight exercise is a safe, scalable and effective solution for you or your patients, visit our Sports Medicine page.
NOTE: Any medical information in this blog is of a general nature and not a substitute for the advice of a medical professional. If you need medical advice, see a doctor.