It can be difficult to know when to use heat and cold therapy, but a simple rule makes it easy to remember:
After a workout, your body needs to "repair" itself to prepare for the next training session. Icing or cold therapy helps constrict blood vessels and flush harmful metabolic debris, like lactic acid, from tissues. It also helps slow circulation, reducing swelling, inflammation, muscle spasms, and easing pain. Cold therapy is also beneficial immediately after a muscle injury, strain or bruising to speed recovery. However, do not use cold therapy before exercise.
After an acute injury, the body releases chemicals including kinin, prostaglandin and histamine into the blood which travel towards the injury and cause inflammation. As a vasoconstrictor, cold therapy causes the blood vessels to constrict helping reduce the flow of these chemicals and can reduce swelling.
Heat therapy can be used multiple ways. With injuries older than 2 days or chronic pain, tension in the muscles and soft tissue, especially around the lower spine, restricts proper circulation and sends pain signals to the brain. Heat opens up blood vessels, increasing blood flow and supplying oxygen and nutrients to reduce pain in joints and relax sore muscles, ligaments and tendons. The warmth also decreases muscle spasms and can increase range of motion.
After intense physical activity, overworked muscles can become sore because of a build up of lactic acid. After using cold therapy to reduce swelling and inflammation, heat therapy can be used to increase blood flow and promote the flushing of lactic acid from muscles.
Warming up prior to physical activity reduces the risk of injury and prepares the body to quickly and efficiently respond to nerve signals. Snapbac can accelerate this process by providing heat therapy to muscles, increasing blood flow so you don’t need to expend as much physical energy, reserving it for training or game time. Also, applying superficial heat to your body can improve the flexibility of tendons and ligaments.