Many people wonder whether to use heat or cold to treat muscle soreness. Some people say to apply heat and others say that icing is best. At Eurospa, we have helped many sore and tired bodies and we have learned that when it comes to healing muscle pain, you need both heat and cold.
What does cold treatment do? First, it numbs the local pain neurons, so the sense of relief is immediate. It also reduces the local tissue temperature, causing to to ease inflammation and swelling. This works through vasoconstriction, which causes the blood vessels to constrict, reducing the blood flow and release of inflammatory mediators into the site of injury. This is especially useful for serious tissue injury and muscle strains, as you will want to reduce swelling and inflammation. (If you get a shooting pain during or immediately after an exercise -you have a muscle strain).
When you exercise, your blood vessels expand and stay that way for at least an hour afterward. Soreness occurs when lactic acid settles in your muscles through dilation of the vessels.
However, using cold alone, isn't enough for the healing process. Too much cold will hinder the muscle's ability to relax. This is where heat comes in. Heat relaxes the muscle, and thus contributes to faster relief of the soreness. Whether you are sore from a workout or are dealing with chronic pain, you still want to make sure you are keeping the muscle relaxed. When it comes to injuries, the muscle will be inflamed, so be sure to be using more cold than heat to make sure you don't add to the inflammation.
The best suggestion? Actively sauna or steam room, being sure to take breaks to stand in a cold shower or sit in an ice pool. Alternating hot and cold will reduce inflammation and induce muscle relaxation for deeper healing. Adding the healing benefits of essential oils, such as our eucalyptus oil spray, will add cooling to the cells while the heat of the sauna or steam room efficiently relaxes.