Ask A Massage Therapist: When To Apply Heat or Ice?

When to Apply Heat or Ice to Muscles | Massage Therapy | Brentwood Bay BC

As a registered massage therapist, under certain circumstances, I will suggest that my patient(s) apply heat or ice after their treatment and/or between treatments. In response I often get asked, “Why heat?” or “Why ice?”. Let me explain.

Muscles have a range of motion, contracting and expanding. An unhealthy muscle loses its full range of motion due to injury, tension, stress, poor posture or a host of other reasons. Massage therapy in combination with home treatments, such as heat and ice, may assist in healing the muscles.

Why Heat?

Heat can be used to increase circulation to tight muscles. Tight muscles have poor blood flow. The blood vessels supply muscles with oxygen and nutrients. Heat dilates (expands) the blood vessels, increasing blood flow which in turn nourishes the muscles, encourages healing and allow muscles to relax.

I suggest that clients apply a steady 20 minutes of heat to the affected area.

While both dry and moist heat can be effective, I believe that moist heat is more beneficial due to its ability to permeate the muscle.

Heat can be applied to the affected area with a flannel covered heating pad, rice bag,or warm towel. Alternatively using a sauna or hot tub, or taking a warm shower or bath, can be a beneficial way to warm up the area.

Why Ice?

Ice is commonly used to decrease inflammation. Inflammation causes swelling that can lead to discomfort and pain. Cold constricts the blood vessels, shunting blood away from the inflamed area(s), decreasing inflammation and pain.

My preferred method of application is 10/10/10 – apply ice to the inflamed area for 10 minutes, remove ice for 10 minutes, then reapply to the affected area for 10 minutes.

Cold can be applied to the affected area using an ice pack, bag of peas, gel pack or ice cubes in a sealed plastic bag. I suggest that you wrap the ice in a thin towel to protect the skin from freezing.

While there may be information related to certain medical conditions and their treatment on this website, please consult your doctor or other healthcare professional to determine if a treatment described in the website is appropriate for you.