I work in construction and have chronic muscle spasms. Should I use ice or heat to help ease the pain?
This is actually one of the most common questions I hear in my practice and here’s my rule of thumb:
If you have a new trauma where there is swelling involved, use ice for 48 to 72 hours. After that, use moist heat.
The inflammation phase of an injury only lasts about 72 hours; so during this period you would want to use ice because it vaso-constricts, which means it removes the blood and the swelling from the area. If there is no swelling, just tight muscles, ice is actually the worst thing you can do.
Imagine having tight muscles and getting into a bathtub filled with ice water. What would that do to your muscles? It would cause you to shiver and your muscles would get tighter.
Now, imagine lying in a bathtub of warm water: that’s much better. Warm/hot water opens the blood vessels and relaxes and soothes the muscles.
That’s what you want for chronic spasms. Because you’re opening the blood vessels, heat brings more nutrients to the area of the soreness which promotes healing.
So for your chronic muscle spasms, the key is moist heat for 20 minutes, It could be a hot bath, hot water bottle, moist heating pad, but here’s the kicker: Never use dry heating pads. They can cause severe problems with the body, damage your cellular DNA, and potentially cause cancer.
Dry heating pads have electromagnetic waves, which actually get into the skin and damage the muscle and the DNA. For example, Electric heating blankets have warnings on them now not to use if you are pregnant because they can cause miscarriages. If an electric heating blanket is dangerous enough to damage or kill a fetus, what do you think it could do to your healthy cells?
Heating pads are fine to use, just make sure you are using moist heat. Most heating pads today come with a sponge insert that you dampen and put inside the cover, insuring a moisture barrier between the electromagnetic waves and creating steam.
Rice bags are also a good way to use heat as pain relief. You throw it in the microwave and it swells and steams, and voila, moist heat. Hydroculators, gel packs, bathtubs, anything that uses water are a good ways to use heat.
Just remember to stay away from dry heating pads and electric heating blankets!
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