Sometimes it's best to heat an injury; sometimes it's best to cool it off with ice (and sometimes it's best to do both). For most acute injuries, ice will control the pain and inflammation, but there are exceptions. Here's our ultimate guide for treating your biggest lower-body troubles.
Quad, hamstrings and groin strains ice first/heat after two days
These strains are caused by a tearing of muscle fibres, and an inflammatory response quickly follows. "Since blood is pooling in the tissues, ice will cause the capillaries to contract and restrict, decreasing blood flow and initiating healing," says associate director of sports medicine, Charlie Rozanski. Heat will then soothe any lingering discomfort.
Achilles tendinitis heat
A stiff Achilles tendon is one quick movement away from inflammation. Applying heat will loosen the area and promote healing by increasing blood flow to the tissues. Athletic trainer Ken Locker, suggests laying a hot, moist towel on the tendon.
Shin splints ice
"Control the pain with ice and you can return to activity," says Locker, who freezes water in a paper cup, then peels away the cup and uses the ice block as a massager. Go over the area until it's numb.
Runner's knee ice
Run past your limit and your kneecap will rub against your femur, causing cartilage damage, inflammation and tendinitis. Relieve the pain with crushed ice. There's no blood in your kneecap, so heat is useless.
Calf cramp ice
The overuse of tight calves will lead to painful muscle contractions during and after exercise. Although cold temps may make the calves feel worse at first, "ice will prevent delayed soreness", says Rozanski. "Heat will cause the muscles to feel sore for days on end."
Plantar fasciitis heat
High mileage can cause the band of tissue that connects your heel bone to the ball of your foot to tear and scar, blocking blood circulation. Apply heat for 30 minutes every few hours.
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