Sports Massage: Hot or cold – which to use?

As a Sports Therapist and Sports Massage Therapist, I am often asked whether or not it’s best to use heat or ice when managing injuries. It can be quite confusing as it depends on the injury, so hopefully the following will help answer some of the questions.

Use Ice when… you have incurred a traumatic injury i.e. a fall, collision, strain or sprain. Apply ice for 10mins with a minimum of 1 hour between applications, intermittently throughout the day. For the first 3 days the injury is classed as being in its acute stage, therefore there is most likely to be an inflammatory response where the injured area can appear swollen, red and hot to touch. Ice narrows the blood vessels to reduce the inflammatory response and ease pain. If you are suffering with a chronic injury, which is more long term than an acute injury, ice can still be used if you exacerbate the injury through work or exercise as it generates an acute response. Ice may be used by a Sports Massage Therapist or Sports Therapist during a treatment as well as recommending further use.

Use heat when… you are suffering a chronic injury, which generally have a gradual onset and persist over a long period of time. Heat opens up the blood vessels, increasing circulation and flushing out pain cells. It also relaxes the muscles which eases the aching that can be inflicted by muscle spasms.

If in doubt use ice!! If you use heat in the wrong circumstance it can exacerbate the injury whereas ice will not.