Heat or Ice?
Well, which is it?
The truth is that heat and cold can often be used for the same problem. It often depends on preference only.
The one steadfast rule to follow is: if an injury is acute, meaning it just happened and you are still in the inflammatory phase of healing (the area is warm and swollen), then use ice. Just think, you do not want to make the area warmer. Heat is usually better for more chronic conditions, such as arthritis, where you may experience pain on and off over a long period of time. However, make sure you are not in an acute flare up of a chronic condition! If you are in doubt, it is safer to use ice for the first few days.
Heat can also be used prior to stretching. It will warm up and prepare the muscle for a stretch. This will allow you to achieve greater muscle elongation. Heat can be used in the form of a moist or dry heating pad or a warm bath.
Do not use ice before exercise. This will do the opposite of stretching. It will stiffen the muscles and may lead to muscular strain. After exercising, ice is a good idea. If you have exerted yourself and maybe overused a vulnerable area, then a little ice may prevent a full blown inflammatory reaction.
RULE OF THUMB:
When using ice or heat, never leave it on more than 30 minutes at a time. Usually around 20 minutes is enough. If you are using direct ice, as in an ice massage (ice in a cup), then even less time is necessary (5-8 minutes or until the area is numb).