It seems instinctive to apply heat to a sports injury, but is this the best way to encourage healing? Is it better to pack the site with ice rather?
Probably the best way to determine this is to decide on the nature of the injury, acute vs chronic and whether it was before or after the workout. An acute injury has taken place within the last 48 hours, usually a sudden trauma such as a collision or a fall. It would present as pain, be tender and warm to the touch, red and swollen. A chronic injury, however, usually develops slowly, and the pain can fluctuate. It is usually as a result of an acute injury not healing properly, or because the muscle or limb is being overused. Acute injuries: the recommendation is ice. This reduces swelling and helps control the pain. Apply early and often for the first 48 hours. Do not use heat, as this raises the skin temperature and increases circulation. Chronic injuries: use heat. Heat is great for sore joints and muscles, loosening and relaxing injured areas. Apply before exercise to increase flexibility and stimulate circulation. However, after exercise, use ice as this inhibits swelling and helps control pain. So: Ice - Acute: after an acute injury. Use an ice bag with ices cubes or an ice massage. Do not use for longer than 20 minutes at a time: numb the area, then allow to restore to normal temperature before reapplying. Heat - Chronic: before exercise that might aggravate a chronic strain. Use a heating pad or a hot wet towel. Do not use for longer than 20 minutes at a time: do not burn yourself.