During recovery, patients often ask the question “should I use heat or ice?” My response is usually that it will vary from person to person dependent upon their specific injury with a few general rules to determine which will be more beneficial. To make an educated decision, we need to first understand how the body heals after injury.
When the tissues in the body break down, from micro traumas or from substantial damage like fractures, sprains or strains, the immune system kicks into action activating the body’s natural defenses. We see these defensive measures in the form of inflammation, increase in temperature to the damaged area, and redness from an increase in blood circulation. These factors are an attempt by the body to protect the area from further damage followed by removing the damaged cells before rebuilding new tissue. The initial inflammation response phase of healing begins immediately and lasts between three to five days. Once the debris from injury is cleared, the body can repair and rebuild the damaged structures over the next six to eight weeks. While it would be nice to have a solid, continuous timeline during healing, it is rarely the case for us as active individuals since the objective of strength training is to create cycles of breaking down tissue and recovering to rebuild stronger muscle. The soreness and discomfort felt after an intense workout is the sign that cells in the muscle tissue broke down causing a cascade of chemicals to release.