Think about it...Should I use heat or ice?
This is one of the most common questions that I get on a daily basis. "Hey Doc! Should I use heat or ice?" People are so quick to put heat on painful areas. That is a bad idea due to the fact that it will only enhance the pain and swelling. If the issue is a new or acute injury, ice is going to be your best friend. With chronic issues heat will most likely be more beneficial.
With an acute injury or recent pain flare up ice will be the most beneficial for you. I will use a sprained ankle as an example. Say you just rolled your ankle this morning playing basketball. It is going to get warm and swell up like a balloon. You are not going to want to bring more heat to an area heat has already been produced. Icing is going to help take the swelling down, reduce the heat in the area, as well as, reduce the pain that you feel. Ice is a great analgesic for acute injuries. If there is swelling, ice is your best bet to stop more blood from swelling the area. Ice for 20 minutes and let the area rest for about 40 minutes. Products like Icy Hot or Biofreeze work to accomplish the same goal as icing, just to cool the tissues.
Now, heat is going to be great for a more chronic issue. For example, a tight muscle that may be giving you problems. In this case the muscle has been in this state for some time and has been a repeat problem. Heat can help loosen the surrounding tissues and decrease stiffness in that specific area. In addition, moist heat is going to work better than dry heat, so keep that in mind. A torn muscle would be a different story due to it being an acute injury, so don't think heat just for a muscle pain.