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Heat or Ice? Hot or Cold?

by Jeff Cordeiro

Lakers apply ice packs to minimize swelling and joint painIíve wanted to address this issue for quite a while but, until recently, I didnít have a great deal to say about the subject. The basic rule of ice for joint pain and heat for muscle pain seemed to cover most situations.

Applying heat or cold to an affected area, in my opinion, is always preferable to medication, including basic aspirin. The possible side effects from pain medications and the additional burden on our systems to rid the toxins introduced by these medications donít justify the convenience of popping a pill. Having said that, I came close recently.

A few weeks ago, in preparation for a major bowling tournament, I began ramping up the number of games I bowled daily. I started off slowly and worked my way up. I took a day off every third day to let my body recover and I followed my plan to the letter. Unfortunately, about halfway into my schedule, a large knot formed in my left gluteus-maximus muscle.

I didnít pull the muscle, so I didnít believe it was an injury. It was painful but not the pain of a torn muscle. So, believing it wasn't an injury and being it was a muscle pain, I applied my rule and applied heat. It didnít help.

Believing it was just a muscle that had been overworked, I decided to work it to the point of fatigue, which would then relax the muscle and eliminate the knot. That didnít work either.

A firm believer in the power of the internet, I Googled the problem. Most of the information I found online validated my approach. However, there was one site that emphatically stated the exact opposite. I usually disregard the odd or radical website but nothing else had worked, so I tried this very counter-intuitive approach Ė ice for a knotted muscle.

For three days I applied cold packs to the knot. Each day the pain lessened until the knot was virtually gone. A slight tenderness remained but nothing that should get in the way of participating in the tournament.

In addition to the cold packs, which I applied for twenty minutes per hour whenever I could, I also supplemented my diet with extra minerals and made sure I was very well hydrated. Deficiencies in either of these areas can also lead to knotted muscles.

The next day I was on the road on my way to the tournament. Sitting in a car for five or six hours is never good for the muscles you sit on but I seemed none the worse for wear upon my arrival.

I made sure my diet was as good as it could be, being on the road, and I got the best nightís sleep possible, being in a hotel room. I woke up the next day, drank 8 ounces of filtered water as soon as I awoke (to help flush toxins filtered overnight), stretched, had my MonaVie, ate a good breakfast, showered, stretched a little more and took the short walk to the bowling ally to practice for an hour. During practice, I had another bottle of water and everything went well Ė not a twinge.

After practice, I iced the affected areas, rested for the remainder of the day, continued to be extra selective in my food choices, and got eight hours of sleep that night. I woke up the next day, went through my morning basics once again, got to the bowling ally, made it through one game and ďpopĒ went my gluteus-maximus.

Two hours, five games and quite a bit of pain later, I went back to my room for more cold pack treatments, more protein and more rest. The next morning I added two new things to my routine. Prior to my shower, I soaked in a very warm tub for about forty-five minutes to loosen the muscles and promote blood flow and I placed an adhesive heat patch on the knotted muscle.

While there was a little tightness, during the six games of qualifying that day, I only felt one bad twinge. Being it worked as well as it did, I repeated the process the next day with even better results.

In talking to one of the other bowlers, he mentioned that he had a similar situation occur a few years back. His doctor told him to alternate hot and cold treatments to shock the body into sending all blood and nutrients to the damaged area. Apparently, I had utilized a milder version of this ďshockĒ therapy.

I donít know if youíve ever come in from a cold winterís day and tried to wash your hands in warm water but let me tell you, if you havenít, donít try it. The temperature difference makes the normally tepid water feel like itís boiling. I canít imagine submerging a body part in ice water for twenty minutes and then immediately submerging that same body part into hot water for twenty minutes, twice a day, for two weeks. However, a milder, friendlier version of this therapy seems to work quite nicely.

So, when it comes to ice or heat for pain, start with the basic rule: ice for joints and heat for muscles. However, if a knotted muscle ever pops up, try cold packs after use to prevent additional swelling and warm soaks prior to use to loosen the muscle and promote blood flow to the muscle and surrounding area.

As for the heat patch, the one I used had a bit of a design flaw. The package stated that the warmth should last for 10 hours (based on laboratory tests). Unfortunately, gravity causes all of the gel in the patch to flow to the bottom after about two hours, rendering the patch useless. I know that there is a new self-adhesive tape that can be applied to almost any area of the body but, unlike the heat patch, chemicals used to treat the affected come into direct contact with and are absorbed into the skin, which concerns me. After all, my goal for applying heat or ice is to avoid the introduction of chemicals into the system.

As always, I hope you found this article thought-provoking and helpful.


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