Home > Your Marathon Your Physio: Should I Use Ice or Heat On My Running Injury?
Your Marathon Your Physio: Should I Use Ice or Heat On My Running Injury?
How do I know when to use ice or heat on my injury?
In this video Marathon Physio, Lucy Macdonald, explains when to use ice or heat on your running injury. She advises you to be careful when applying heat to avoid burns – wrap it in a tea towel and only apply for 2-5 minutes at a time. If the area of injury is warm or hot then apply something cold. If the area feels tight, then heat will be more beneficial. Using these techniques in small doses is better. However, if you are injured it is essential you get it looked at professionally.
Hi there, I’m Lucy Macdonald, physiotherapist, and today I am going to talk about whether you should be icing or using heat for injuries or discomfort.
So, first things first, just to put a bit of a caveat on both of these things, is that you would be very surprised how many burns I’ve seen from people applying their own hot water bottles, ice packs etc. Nasty blistery skin breaking burns. So be super, super careful whenever you apply either of these two things. The way to avoid burns is to make sure that you wrap whatever you’re using in damp tea towels and to only apply it for a maximum of two to five minutes at a time and then to check your skin regularly. Basically, don’t sit on the sofa with your leg on a hot water bottle and fall asleep, you’re going to wake up with a pretty nasty burn.
Right, that aside, what should you be using, heat or ice? So, it’s first of all important to say that there is no definitive research to say that ice or heat should be used in certain scenarios, but certainly the physiology suggests that you can follow some basic principles.
The first one is that if something is warm or hot, which it often will be in the initial stages of injury then using cold is more beneficial than heat. So, if when you touch the area it feels hot and/or it’s swollen, then cold is going to be your preferred choice. However, if the area feels tight, and this will often happen further down the line, or for example, with tendon problems, or anything where something feels a bit tight or stiff, then heat is going to be better. So, having a hot bath, having a hot shower, using a hot water bottle etc., those things will help to increase the circulation, loosen off any muscle spasm and make us feel a bit better.
So, the final component of the advice is that you should really just follow what instinctively feels good. Ice can be quite good for reducing pain levels but again sometimes if you’re injured the last thing you want to do is stick a load of ice on it. In which case, just don’t do it. You’re much better off doing whatever feels instinctively right, so whatever you think is going to enable you to get that part of your body moving again, go for that.
So, then if you’re feeling like ‘ooh well both might help’, then by all means there is also some research to show that doing alternate ice and heat can help. Either way its all about using it short term. The effects of ice and heat are only really valuable if you’re using it in small doses. So little and often is better, and much safer than sticking it on and leaving it on for longer periods of time.
If you are injured it is absolutely essential that you get it assessed and treated, somethings that may masquerade as a minor muscular injury could be indicators of more severe things, for example calf soreness.
So please do get in touch with me, with even what seems like the most minor injury. Please just get in touch, just so that I can give you some reassurance at the very least. The best contact details for me are firstname.lastname@example.org or if you want to send a secure email email@example.com. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and please do let me if you have any topics that you’d like me to cover next, by all means I will. And in the meantime, happy running!