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Ice or Heat?
By Margie Webb, R.N.

Hooray its Spring and Summer. Winter is over. You're done with heavy coats and shoveling snow. You are anxious to get out working and playing in the sun. BUT reaching a little too far, twisting and turning and not stretching and resting as you should, BINGO you could end up with muscle strain, stiffness, and pain. Sore muscles are often accompanied by inflammation.

What To Do
You are stuck with the age old question, Ice or Heat? Cold therapy is simple, inexpensive and effective. Heat therapy is not as effective as cold therapy though it certainly soothing, which accounts for its popularity. Cold or ice therapy though not as soothing at the start is more effective, penetrates tissue deeper and lasts longer than heat therapy. Ice therapy is often used by massage and/or physical therapists. Cold therapy is good for sudden acute pain as well as for chronic pain. What to expect: It will feel cold for approximately half a minute then the sensation will gradually change to a "dull burning" sensation, lasting for 6 to 8 minutes until the skin becomes numb. At this point there is little discomfort; however it will take an additional 20 minutes to penetrate the skin, fat tissue and muscles to provide a positive effect. As the muscles cool, there will be decreased sensation and decrease muscle tension and increased blood flow. This coolness also decreases the metabolic rate. This coolness progressively impairs nerve function which reduces or eliminates pain in the area as a result the muscle continues to relax further.

How to Help Yourself
As a self-treatment, cold therapy is effective in stimulating healing in the affective muscles. The effects of cold tend to last from one to four hours and should be repeated throughout the day. It can be used whenever you suspect injury or aggravation of the muscles from over activity. Allow two to three hours between cold applications. A layer of a terrycloth towel should be placed between the skin and the cold pack; this will prevent the skin from freeze burn.

If you suffer from muscle pain typified by muscle tenderness, aching and stiffness, cold therapy might be the most beneficial for you. Cold packs may be purchased at the store or you can use a frozen bag of peas. Please discuss this with a medical professional prior to starting cold therapy.

As a way to avoid muscle injury, it is best to warm your muscles by stretching to increase circulation and flexibility. If you do experience muscle pain, Remember, reach for the ice.

To contact Margie Webb, Licensed Massage Therapist, email margahhhamassage@aol.com.

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