Ice or Heat After Exercise

So you’ve just completed a hard workout or you’ve just finished a big day working in the yard. Now to relax you just want to get in the hot tub or put a couple heat packs on your body and soak it in. Sounds good right? But is it the best thing for your body? NO.

Think about a baseball pitcher. After he has thrown a big game, what do they do with his arm? They ice it down. Why? He has just physically stressed his arm and shoulder. The same thing you do with a workout or with any other increased physical activity like yard work. When you stress a muscle there are micro tears that occur within the muscle. This stress and these tears create inflammation. The best thing to naturally slow and minimize inflammation is ice. Heat will do nothing but make the inflammation worse. Large whirlpool baths that athletes use are filled with cold water, not hot. All for the purpose of reducing inflammation after a hard workout.

Now, heat can be good for the body before exercise. It helps to loosen up the muscles and tendons and prepare them for physical activity. But never use heat after exercise. Again, let me stress that this includes any physical activity you perform that regularly causes soreness and pain afterward. If your back is sore and ache after every round of golf you play, then you should be using ice to help calm it down. If your elbow is sore and painful after every tennis match you play. Ice it down. I could go on and on with examples, but I think you get the point. Any aches and pains that come about by physical activity are usually a result of inflammation within the body. Heat will feel good while applied, but will cause the inflammation to increase, resulting in greater pain afterward. In a previous post “Ice vs. Heat for Back Pain” I discuss this even more.

So there you have it. Ice after exercise to reduce and minimize inflammation. You want to ice for up to, but no longer than, 20 minutes at a time and you want approximately 40 minutes of time between icing sessions. You can repeat this cycle as often as you want. Don’t forget to stretch after exercise too. Check out these stretches in “Back Pain Relief” for your low back.