Ice is typically among the first thing to do in the recovery process after strenuous exercise. Icing your muscles helps to reduce pain and decrease swelling and inflammation. Ice causes your blood vessels to narrow, which will reduce your blood flow to the muscle or injured area.
Never place ice directly on your skin, however. Wrap an ice pack around a thin cloth and place on the affected muscle for ten minutes at a time. You can use ice multiple times per day for a few days after exercise, but make sure to allow for your skin to return to room temperature before icing after each 10 minute interval.
Heat is typically applied to uscles or injuries that do not have swelling or inflammation. Heat will cause your blood vessels to expand, which improves circulation and allows more blood to go to the affected area. Heat can be useful for chronic injuries and muscle soreness or it can be used before exercise to stimulate blood flow and help prepare the muscle for exercise. Heat should also not be directly applied to skin and should be used for short 10-15 minute intervals.
Always check with your doctor before starting treatment of an injury, especially if the condition worsens or fails to improve.
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