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Fire and Ice

March 20, 2013

We have all endured those work-out sessions from which we emerge amazed, feeling as though we have survived a nuclear apocalypse. Our muscles are sore, an old injury has possibly slightly flared up, and we need to care for our bodies  – but do we apply heat or cold?

Picking the appropriate temperature application begins by discerning which type of injury you are suffering: acute or chronic.

  • Acute Pain appears suddenly, either immediately after, or within a few hours of, the injury that causes it occurs. Acute pain is often sharp, and is sometimes accompanied by redness and swelling. It is short-term pain.
  • Chronic Pain is persistent – it can take longer to appear, but lasts much longer. It is often more dull in quality. It can be caused by acute pain that is untreated, including overused muscles.

Cold vs. Heat

Ice is Nice: You will want to ice areas suffering acute injury immediately after exercising. If you are suffering chronic injuries that are the result of overusing your muscles, you may want to apply ice to those injuries, as well, after exercising.


Desire Fire: You will want to apply heat to areas suffering chronic injury. Make sure not to apply heat to areas that are suffering from inflammation, and not to apply heat immediately after exercise. Heat can be applied before exercise, however, to increase elasticity in the muscles.

abstract fire on black

Application Tips

When applying cold to acute injuries, you don’t want to apply ice directly to your skin. Lay a towel over the area of injury, and place the ice pack on the towel.

Try to apply ice between 15-20 minutes every hour for the first few hours (make sure to let your skin return to a normal temperature before re-applying ice). If you are still suffering acute pain on the following day or two, apply cold every 3 -4 hours, if possible, until the pain is gone.


If you are icing overused muscles, you may want to apply heat therapy later. Make sure there is no swelling in the injured area  before applying heat.

When using heat therapy, do not think “hot.” “Warm” is a much better temperature. You want to warm your skin, not burn it.

Heat therapy works by warming the skin, and thereby allowing the heat to sink into your muscles, so in general, the longer you apply the heat, the better.

You want to avoid dry heat, which will dehydrate your skin. Examples of applying moist heat are warm baths, or applying warm, wet towels over the area of injury.

warm bath

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