Treating Muscle Injuries

Neck and Shoulder PainImmediately after suffering a muscle injury, is it ice or heat?

The rule of thumb is captured in this acronym:  RICE.


First, stop all activity that involves the the injured area to provide rest.  Second, apply ice for at least 20 minutes to reduce swelling that can cause secondary injury to the muscle fibers.  Apply compression with a wrap to the injured area to prevent swelling.  Finally elevate the injured area to prevent blood from pooling and creating additional swelling.

If you have severe pain, broken skin, or are unable to use the injured area at all, seek medical help immediately.

So when would you use heat?  Heat is useful in non-acute situations or after an injury is well into healing (usually after 72 hours).  Notice that the main intent of the RICE treatment is to reduce swelling.   Heat increases blood flow and swelling, so is counter productive with an acute injury.

Overworked, fatigued and tired muscles respond well to heat.  The additional blood flow helps to free up muscle fibers and increase movement for these conditions.   The key in using heat is to move the affected area by gently stretching or walking after the application of heat.  This helps prevent the return of the original condition after the heat is removed.

If you’re using heat as part of your rehabilitation of an injury (after the 72 hour acute phase), always follow up the application of heat with a round of ice therapy.

There’s more information on hot/cold packs available at Mountain Waves here.


About Paul Kulpinski, LMT

Paul Kulpinski is a licensed massage therapist, holistic wellness coach and co-founder of Mountain Waves Healing Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona with over 15 years experience in helping people achieve their optimum state of well being. Information contained in this blog should not be taken as medical advice. Readers are advised to validate the information presented here with other sources including your personal physician for information specific to you.
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One Response to Treating Muscle Injuries

  1. holly troy says:

    Thanks for this article. I always forget when to use heat or ice. It’s a good reminder!

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