Should you use Ice or Heat to relieve Muscle Pain?

November 22, 2021 7:42 am

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As Massage therapists when a client has sore muscles or other injuries they ask us what is more effective to help relieve pain, Heat or Ice? The short answer is Ice for Pain, Heat for sore and stiff muscles. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of ice and heat therapy to determine which one to use for relief from pain.


How it Works: It is used to increase the overall temperature of the area where pain exists. This causes blood vessels in that area to dilate, allowing more blood flow and oxygen to reach damaged or injured tissue. The increased circulation helps bring relief from muscle stiffness, spasms, swelling, and inflammation while also causing a decrease in nerve conduction velocity.

Heat can be applied to sore muscles either directly by using hot packs/compresses or heating pads. Heat therapy may also involve ultrasound devices that use high-frequency sound waves rather than actual physical heat sources like microwaves would provide; this type of therapy is often used in physical therapy.

Hot Packs/Compresses are made of fabric. Usually, cotton or flannel, filled with rice or beans and heated in the microwave. The heat can be either soothing or stimulating, depending on how hot it gets. Heat is more straightforward to tolerate than ice because it does not cause a reduction of blood flow as quickly, which means that there is minor discomfort from coldness.


Heat therapy is generally recommended for relief from acute or chronic pain. If you have an injury that causes a great deal of swelling, heat can help reduce it by increasing blood flow and circulation and decreasing fluid build-up in the surrounding tissue. It can be used Pre-workout, Post-workout recovery or before a Massage.


Heat therapy is usually used in the form of a heating pad or rice pack applied over affected areas for 15-20 minutes at a time.


How it works: Ice is often used to treat swelling and inflammation caused by sports injuries, sprains, or strains. It works like heat because it causes vasoconstriction (decreasing blood flow), which reduces pain while also reducing inflammation/swelling. However, this form of treatment should be applied during the first two to three days after an injury occurs.

The best thing about ice is that it does not take very long for the numbing effect to kick in. If you are experiencing pain, apply cold compression to the area where the pain originates or crushed ice wrapped in cloth over the top of your skin until numbness occurs. **Ice should never be applied directly onto bare skin. Wrap in a thin t-shirt or towel to avoid frostbite damage to the skin.**


Ice therapy is best for relieving pain and swelling during the first three days of an injury. Ice can be used regularly until swelling has been reduced to acceptable levels – this can take up to 48 hours, so do not assume that just because the area feels better after the first day means you are no longer required treatment.

After applying ice, it is best to wait 20-30 minutes before re-applying if needed and allowing blood flow back into affected areas for another 15+ minutes after removing pack/ice from the skin.

TYPES OF ICE PACKS: There are several ice packs you can use to treat injuries – reusable gel types are popular because they conform well to most body parts while being easy to store, but if these are not available, try using frozen water bottles or zip lock bags filled with ice instead. If you have access to freezer space at home, there is no need to purchase new products when trying out this type of therapy. You can even take some regular tap water, freeze it in a paper cup, and then peel away the outer layer after it has fully hardened.

WHICH IS BETTER – ICE OR HEAT FOR SORE MUSCLES AFTER WORKOUT? Ice therapy is best for relieving pain and swelling during the first three days of an injury; then heat should be applied instead to promote blood flow/healing while also ensuring there are no further complications.

Is heat or ice better for sore muscles? Heat should be used regularly until swelling has been reduced to acceptable levels. Heat treatments have been shown to promote “vasodilation” (i.e., blood flow) more effectively and efficiently soothe stiff muscles while also being suitable for treating back pain/stiffness.

Ice or heat for muscle strain? For muscle strain, a hot shower or bath can help soothe pain and reduce swelling by increasing blood flow to the area. The idea behind using cold therapy is that decreasing your skin temperature numbs nerve endings, which reduces pain signals being sent to your brain. However, it’s not as effective as heat therapy for certain types of pain, including lower back pain.

Ice or heat for pulled muscles? Use heat therapy to help relax the area and reduce spasms. This eases pain and speeds up healing time by increasing blood flow to the affected area.

Ice therapy is known for its mild numbing effects, which can help with recovery when used regularly. People who have used both methods claim that heat feels better during a massage because it relaxes knotted areas more quickly. At the same time, ice provides much-needed relief when applied directly after finishing any physical activity.

We have done the research for you! Body and Soul Massage offers at home hot and cold treatments.

Herbal Heat Packs from Mother Earth: The Small Flax Pillow is perfect HOT or COLD for placing against lower sacral area to relieve long-standing low-back pain, between shoulder blades, or rolled up for neck support. Apply anywhere pain or stiffness strikes, wherever you are, day or night. Warm to help relax on those sleepless nights when nothing else works.

Cryosphere cold therapy from Recoup: Combine the benefits of Ice and Massage in one single product. Relieve muscle spasms, stiffness or joint pain. Help break up scar tissue and improve lactic acid build up. Combat muscle fatigue, pain, tightness, soreness and knots while promoting natural stress relief. Use the Cryosphere across your entire body to accelerate and recover damaged or inflamed muscles and injuries. Increase blood and lymphatic flow using trigger point myofascial release.

Body & Soul Massage in Salem Ma offers Therapeutic Massage for Pain Relief. Want to address a specific injury? Ask about our 10 pack of 30 minute Pain Relief Packages. Call 978-825-0040 to schedule your appointment or visit