Heat vs. Cold
The question typically arises with a new injury: “Heat or ice?” A good rule of thumb is to use cold in the early stage of injury then use heat later. Remember RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
Cold therapy decreases blood flow, swelling, and inflammation by causing vessels to constrict. Therefore, it is best suited for contusions or bruises, muscle strains, sprains, and fractures. Heat therapy can be introduced generally 36-72 hours after the initial injury after ice has been used and swelling has decreased.
Heat can increase blood flow and swelling with vasodilation, which is why it is important to wait before applying heat to acute injuries. Heat can be used to treat muscle spasms from the start and also help to increase flexibility. Moist heat penetrates deeper into the body and should be used over topical heat sources if it is available.
It is always beneficial to consult a medical professional for serious or extremely painful injuries before self-treating with heat or ice. However, when it doubt, ice is usually the best choice. Never apply ice for more than 20 minutes at a time. Give yourself a 45-60 minute break before icing again for 20 more minutes.
See the attached article for more details about cold versus heat therapy. Heat vs. Cold
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