Why You May Need to Ice to Relieve Your Muscle Pain
Okay, so I have this very common scene going through my head right now.
It’s been a long day at work, it’s almost 6:00 PM, you’re stuck in traffic trying to rush your way to a very special destination (well maybe not to everyone): the GYM. You get there on time, rush to the lockers, change your outfit, and ACTION, it’s game time. Everyone is working out and you’re ready to release all that tension too.
So you start with a workout, get some tips from trainers here and there, get extra motivation from the person on your left who makes it look so easy.
Now it’s been almost 1 hour and it’s time to head home. You get home, have that post-workout snack, and there’s a weird pain in your shoulder. Not the good kind of pain, I mean real discomfort like a very tight muscle. So you say to yourself: it’s okay, nothing a relaxing warm shower can’t fix. Right?
You see, the thing with pain is that it’s actually a defense mechanism generated by our body to protect us from something that shouldn’t be happening like a pulled muscle or a strained muscle. So when you perceive a feeling of pain (actual pain, not soreness or muscle fatigue) you must know that something is wrong. I’m not scaring you here, I’m just shedding a light on the possibility that something might be out of order.
So when muscle pain kicks in after a work out what is actually going on?
According to an article written by Treloar Physiotherapy Clinic in Vancouver, the body responds to an injury by generating an inflammatory process. The purpose of this process is to increase blood flow to this area to aid in healing 1.
What you might be feeling
Usually once an inflammation kicks in, you might start feeling:
- Local warmth
- Slight swelling (occasionally)
- Limitation in the range of motion (so you can’t really move that area in a normal way)
What you should do to the strained muscle area?
Once the uncomfortable pain kicks in with abnormal activity of the affected area, the last thing you should do is apply heat, or in other words: take a hot shower. I know at the moment it would be very tempting but in fact heat is the enemy of inflammation. With all the chaos going on underneath that skin, we need to cool it down and help it out. So whenever a similar feeling kicks in let ice therapy be your first resort.
Be careful though, sometimes pain could be due to other structures like tendons or ligaments. So if you’re ever not so sure about what’s going on make sure you get a second opinion.
Here are a few extra tips:
- Always have a bag of ice ready at home to apply in similar situations
- Have a cold shower instead of a hot one
- Make sure to get it checked out with a specialist the next day if pain persists
- Avoid direct contact between the ice and your skin, always have a thin damp cloth or a piece of paper towel in between, because just like heat, if your skin is sensitive you can burn yourself
- Apply the ice in alteration for optimal results: apply for 8 minutes, remove for 2 minutes – repeat this process for 3 times (so the whole process should last around 30 minutes)
- Apply the ice for 2-3 days
If pain and swelling are too obvious and unbearable, like a swollen knee for example that you can’t stand on anymore after a HIIT workout, or a swollen ankle then it’s best you head to the ER and let the doctors do all the work.
Take home message
Everyone is susceptible to minor muscle injuries here and there in the sports department. You should be able to distinguish between the good pain and the bad pain. Whenever you have identified the pain as bad, always start by applying ice. Then assess the situation, and go get a professional’s opinion as soon as possible. But never apply heat to an area of acute pain, because you’re only aggravating that process which will lead to even more pain.
IFPA certified Fitness Personal Trainer