If you have recently hurt yourself and have pain, spasms, and it feels "tight" you will want to use ice. Place an ice pack on your body for 20 minutes. Place a towel between the ice pack and your skin. After 20 minutes, the skin should be cool and slightly red. It should not be super red and frozen.
When people feel "tight" and have pain after an injury, they will often use heat and try to "stretch it out." This frequently causes the injury to last longer than it should. We understand that heat feels good. Of course it feels good...it's nice and warm. However, heat often creates more inflammation in the long run and delayed healing.
So when do you use heat? When you have a chronic condition that is not caused from an injury. Any injury that you've been dealing with for years would be best served by using heat. Stiffness from arthritis or an injury that's continuing to heal from months ago would be good examples.
This is the most frequently asked question we get in our office.
Remember what professional athletes do. After a baseball game, the pitcher places his elbow in a bucket of ice, not a heating pad. Football players take ice baths. Basketball players place ice packs on their knees and ankles. These professional athletes have the best medical care money could buy. They are using ice not heat.
You should do the same.