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What is Best? Ice or Heat for Joint and Muscle Pain

Updated on May 25, 2017
Where is your pain
Where is your pain

You have to use those joints and muscles

Is it just the season for aches and pains, or is there something we can do to ease the pain? It is the season for yard clean-ups, the season for starting gardens, the season for getting the camper ready and it is boating season. This is the beginning of stiff joints and sore muscles. What are we doing wrong?

Myalgia is the medical term for muscle pain. The pain can involve one or many muscles. The pain is usually localized. The pain can increase when pressure is applied on the area. Muscle pain can be widespread throughout the body.

Arthralgin is the medical term for joint pain. The pain occurs when the joints of bone structures produce aches and pains. A joint is the area that is connecting two bones. This is the pain in the knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders.

Joint pain must be near bones
Joint pain must be near bones

Where is your pain? Muscles or Joints?

The easiest way to determine if your pain is muscles or joints is to self-analyze the pain. A muscle pain will reduce when not using the muscle. Walking or exercising the area reduces the toxins in the muscles. The pain is reduced or disappears. But, doing too much will tighten the muscle and knots will appear. A joint pain is deeper, stronger and hurts in all movements. Joint pain is present even when no movements is done.

All of the fore mentioned activities are done regularly without issues. The pains happen when we increase the length of the muscles. This happens when we change the routine by increasing the work we normally do. This can cause injuries to the muscle fibers and the connective tissues. The pain starts later in the evening when you are trying to sleep or days later. "We call that ‘delayed onset' muscle soreness," says Ethel Frese, PT, from St. Louis University. "It peaks within about 48 hours, and then it will gradually get better." When we keep doing the same work, the muscles get use to the push and pull.

"You will actually have no soreness or less soreness because now you've strengthened the muscle or connective tissue," says Allan H. Goldfarb, PhD at University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

All things are related
All things are related

Muscle pain is the most common

Muscle pain is caused by other things than seasonal cleaning. Tension or stress can create toxins in the muscles. Over-activity includes too much exercising, and too much working of the arms and legs. Sprains, strains and other injuries can cause muscles to expand or contract causing pain. There are other medical conditions such as the flu, lupus, Lyme disease and arthritis that just produce aches and pains. Be careful with certain drugs, as they also can cause muscle fatigue. Check the use of ACE inhibitors and blood pressure pills. Always inform your doctor of any and all changes in muscle tenderness.

You should always be aware of any changes or symptoms in your muscle feelings. Watch out for muscle spasms, any weakness in localized areas, and record any paralysis of muscles. Physical symptoms such as vomiting, fever and trouble swallowing should be reported immediately. Any stiffness in the neck and trouble breathing could be serious enough for a call to the doctor. You should be able to coordinate any problems with the muscles and the rest of your body. In other words, if you over used your arms and shoulders, you should not have ankle pain. Check the source and treat accordingly.

You can do this
You can do this

Joint pain is harder to treat

Joint pain might be easier to identify. You may have swelling in the area surrounding the joint. The area could be warm and temperature rise in the area. Tenderness in the muscles around the joints is an indicator. Of course, any injury like bursae, ligament and tendon damage to the muscles attached to the joints, will cause problems. Medical diseases, necrosis, gout, orteoarithritis, bursitis and many others can cause serious joint pain.

The pain is everywhere!
The pain is everywhere!

You will have pain with both muscle and joint

Now that we know we have pain, how are we going to treat it? Hot or Cold? Basic rule says use ice for immediate injuries with pain. Use ice for inflammation and swelling. Only use heat for muscle pain or stiffness. That could be misleading, as muscle pain is felt with all pain. Ice is best for immediate relief. Using ice right after the injury cuts the inflammation. You can add heat later that will increase the blood flow. Heat will make the area feel better.

You want to relax the muscles that are tight, you also want to stretch any joints that are tight. Then you want to strengthening the muscles and stabilize any joints that seem to be moving around.

Pain effects many areas
Pain effects many areas

Cryotherapy is cold therapy

Cold therapy is probably going to be used the most, so let’s start with heat. There are two types of heat used in muscle/joint pain therapy. They are dry and moist. Dry heat comes in the form of heating pads, dry heating packs, and saunas. Moist steamed towels, moist heated pads and hot baths are very convenient. These forms are easy to us and very effective. Heat therapy improves circulation and blood flow to the damaged area by increasing temperature. Heat relaxes and smoothes muscles and can heal damaged tissue. Heat relieves discomfort and increases the flexibility in the muscles.

Warm wash cloths or heating pads can be used on the area of the muscle. A warm shower or bath with Epsom salt is very effective. The magnesium in Epsom salt helps relax the pain. When using hot therapy, always use warm temperature not hot. Do not use on an infected or open sore area. Do not use more than twenty minutes at a time. If you start to see swelling, stop. Be careful using heat therapy if you have: diabetes, dermatitis, vascular diseases, deep vein thrombosis and multiple sclerosis. Minor stiffness or tension can be treated for 15 to 20 minutes. Moderate and severe pain for 30 minutes to two hours.

Cold therapy is known as cryotherapy. It works by reducing the blood flow to the damaged area. This helps to reduce inflammation and swelling. The cooling reduces the nerve activity and then pain is temporary relieved. The most popular form of cold therapy is ice packs or frozen gel packs. Modern methods use coolant sprays. Ice baths and ice massages are other forms of therapy. Always use ice in towels, never put directly on skin. Apply ice as soon as injury occurs. This can keep swelling down. Therapy should be use in short periods of time, but can be used several times a day. Time treatments for 10 to 15 minutes and no more than 20 minutes. Elevating the area, if possible, for best results.

Decide if Heat or Ice will help
Decide if Heat or Ice will help

Rice is not edible!

If you want to avoid the pain associated with muscle and joint problems, you must avoid the most popular causes of this discomfort: tension, stress, injuries and overuse. As if that was possible. R.I.C.E. is an easy way to remember treatment. R is for rest. Stop using the area and give it a rest. I is for ice. The sooner you get some ice or something cold on the area will limit the swelling and release some of the pain. C is for compression. This could involve the use of an ace bandage on another type of wrap to reduce swelling. And final the E is for elevation. Raising your foot and ankle area or if you can the affected area, is another way of reduce swelling.

To use or not to use is your choice
To use or not to use is your choice

Supplements as a form of therapy

Taking supplements is another form of therapy. Many people believe they can get all the vitamins and nutrients from the food they eat. But for many who want help either for the psychological wellbeing or because they believe in supplements here is a partial list. Always check with your doctors before taking any over the counter of other pills.

Glucosamine/Chondroitin. I list them together because I think they work best when taken together. Many people believe they only work on animals because veterinarians first used the therapy on their patients. Gluco/Cho (my abbreviation) helps support the work of cartilage, tendons and tissues. It also helps to lubricate joints. The fluid makes a cushion to stop friction and pain.

MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) is a mineral the helps in building nails, muscles, hair, skin and building cells. It is a form of sulphur the makes the collagen needed in cartilage and connecting tissue. Most people can produce enough MSM when eating fruits, grains and vegetables.

SAMe (S-adenosymethionine) Many people report great results in reducing swelling, along with relieving join pain and stiffness. “SAMe was more effective than a placebo for relief of the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis,” reports the Agency for Health Care Research. Problems have been noted when being treated for Parkinson’s Disease, and taking antidepressants.

Omega-3 fatty acids are used to stop wear and tear on the joints. It also reduces inflammation and helps build the tendons. Read an earlier article on hub pages to increase your knowledge of fish oil- https://hubpages.com/health/Fish-Oil-Is-Good-for-your-skin-your-heart-your-brain-what-else

There are many other vitamins such as calcium, vitamin C, silicon, just to name a few. Do research on your part to deceive what is best for you and your body. I have included several other articles on supplements and related subjects. Please check them out.

https://hubpages.com/health/Reducing-Pain-the-Natural-Way

https://hubpages.com/health/What-is-CoQ10-and-will-you-benefit-from-taking-a-supplement

https://hubpages.com/health/Astaxanthin-the-New-Anti-Aging-Wrinkle-Smoother-and-Powerful-Antioxidant-All-in-One-Pill

https://hubpages.com/health/Romosozumab-a-New-Drug-for-Treating-Pain-in-Bones-Joints-and-Muscles

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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Both my grown sons are athletes and I'm married to an old soldier, so aches and pains are well-known to our family. Thanks for the good information.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Not only has my medical terminology improved, I also have a better understanding of joint and muscle pains.

    • Lisawilliamsj profile image

      Lisa Williams 4 months ago

      Thanks for these suggestions! I have Fibromyalgia and Connective Tissue Disorder, and I am always looking for ways to reduce both muscle and joint pain!