Injuries: Ice or Heat?

by Nicole Smith on January 21, 2014

tennis elbow

I have found over the years that even among the most seasoned everyday athlete, people do not know what to do when they get injured. It is a very common thing for me to hear, “I slipped on some Sore shoulderice Saturday and now my knee is injured” or “I went to a class at the gym and now my body is EXTREMELY sore”. When I then ask the person if they did anything like ice the injury or take a hot Epsom salt bath after this they most often say, “Um no, but I took some Advil.” These situations are frustrating for me as a personal trainer because if the person would have taken a day to really address the problem they were having with heat or ice, it wouldn’t STILL be an issue several days, sometimes even months later.

Now as a disclaimer, I am not a doctor, so heed this information as a guideline and if there is ever something that is extremely painful, is internally not normal (such as heart palpitations, dizziness, numbness, etc.), is a fall where you have hit your head, is an injury with a cut/laceration, or is clearly broken bones, please use common sense and seek medical assistance right away. However, I think it’s extremely important for people to know the simple tips for the more common, less serious injuries that I have experienced to work the best during my 12 years as a personal trainer and my 25 years as a professional dancer/teacher.

So what to do…

Ice or Heat It’s a very controversial subject if you Google it which seems to confuse most people, so they just don’t do anything. I have found time and time again that what I am going to suggest works for most people so instead of doing nothing, try it out…


Epsom saltIf your body is sore the day after from working out or doing too much in a physical activity, heat is the best approach. I recommend a hot Epsom salt bath for a minimum of 10 minutes. I recommend this over a heating pad because the salt water lets the heat penetrate deeper and around the whole area getting all the fascia that surrounds the muscles. This is important because sometimes the soreness comes from other areas being tight in the fascia and then pulling on the muscle creating the stiffness. The hot bath takes care of all of this and gets you feeling better fast!



pulled hamsting runner

If you are doing something and instantly feel a sharp pain, or a muscle begins to burn and throb, you have strained it. Stop doing movement with that muscle and ice it immediately to get the inflammation down. Ice as soon as you can after the injury happns for 10 minutes on/10 minutes off, minimum of two times for at least two days in a row, preferable with real ice over ice packs. Try not to use the area that had just been iced until the skin is not cold to the touch. This prevents the blood from having to rush back into the area and ruining the work you just did by having the ice on the injury.


knee inflammationThese areas are very congested with lots of tendons and ligaments from various muscles and are bound to have inflammation if you injure them. If you fall and jam your wrist, turn your ankle on a curb, hurt your shoulder from doing a new move in yoga, feel pain in the kneewrist tendons when going up steps, etc., you have inflammation in that joint. The sooner you can start an ice recovery regimen the better to keep that area from getting the dreaded tendinitis. I know many people who injure themselves in these areas and don’t ice right away and then the problem gets worse and the inflammation harder to get rid of, resulting in weeks, sometimes even months of pain instead of just a few days.

RICE methodFollowing the tried and true R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevate) Method for these types of injuries works best. Ice as soon as you can after the injury happens for 10 minutes on/10 minutes off, minimum of two times for at least two days in a row, preferable with real ice over ice packs. Until the skin is not cold to the touch, try not to use the area that had just been iced. This prevents the blood from having to rush back into the area and ruining the work you just did by having the ice on the injury.



hip painThis joint is more complicated because sometimes the injury needs heat, and sometimes ice. If your hip hurts from a fall or banging it on something, it is bruised and needs ice. If you are experiencing  hip pain from a muscle being tight, heat from an Epsom salt bath will alleviate it. Be mindful with what is causing the injury, because if it is tight muscles, icing it can actually make the muscles go into spasms, hence making the pain worse. However,because this joint is so complicated and often the pain is coming from somewhere else than you think it is, I always recommend seeing a doctor as soon as possible for this one.



sore back

To know what to do with back pain you need to ask yourself, “Is the pain directly from the spine or is it the muscles on the sides of the spine.”

If the pains coming from the muscles, heat will usually work best. However, if the pain is coming directly from the spine, it is very possible that you have injured a disk, in which you will want to ice the area and see a doctor as soon as possible.


What if you are still not getting better? If you have been diligently doing your ice or heat regimen and it doesn’t start to get better after two days or it gets worse after one day, you need to seek medical attention.

ankle xray

Remember, this is a guideline for you to use. If you are running and you feel a sharp pain in your foot and then it swells up, you have most likely broken it and need to see the doctor immediately. If you fall or have an accident in which you hit your head or anything is cut or clearly broken, again seek medical attention! However, if it is something that you think “Oh, I’ll be OK in a few days” I implore you to please take action and do the ice/heat recommendations. You will heal so much faster resulting in less time from you being active, thus you getting to stay fit and healthy. taking yoga class

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