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When to Use Ice or Heat for an Injury

Defaulting to the same treatment for every muscle pain can inhibit recovery. Check these tips on when to use ice or heat treatment for pain!

Ballet is a very disciplined art that requires a lot of work from the body. Dancers train carefully and are diligent with their warm ups to prevent injuries, but even with the best prep work they can still face sore muscles and occasional strains. When that happens to you, it’s important to treat the pains correctly so that you can get back to dancing quickly and safely. Common misconceptions about the correct way to treat these minor injuries can lead to delayed recovery times or an increased risk of bothering the problem area again. Knowing when to use ice or heat is important knowledge for every dancer to have.

When to Ice Sore Muscles

For many dancers, applying ice to a painful area can be the default reaction, but injury specialists warn that this isn’t always the appropriate response.

According to the experts at Health Line, icing is meant for the quick treatment of fresh injuries. Also known as cryotherapy, this process works best for treating pain and inflammation. Cryotherapy can also be used if a dancer is feeling sore after a particularly demanding workout. The ice causes the blood vessels to constrict which reduces swelling and the discomfort that comes with it. Icing sore areas after exercising can reduce bruising as well by slowing down fluid build-ups under the skin.

You need to be careful to avoid icing before performing any strenuous activity. There’s a reason why athletes of all disciplines must perform warm ups before exercising – cold muscles are tighter and can be more prone to pulls or tears. If you feel the need to ice any part of your body during a dance class or workout, you need to be done exercising for a while.

It can be dangerous to return to physical activity immediately after icing a muscle, even if it’s started to feel better. You’ll be better off taking a little extra downtime than risking making an injury worse, which could result in a much longer recovery. Dance Teacher Magazine recommended you wait at least an hour before dancing again if you’ve iced a muscle.

The writers at Dance Teacher Magazine also emphasized that placing ice on an injury can create more problems than it solves if it isn’t done properly. Make sure you wrap your ice pack in a thin towel or similar material to keep it from having direct contact with your skin. You should only apply ice for a maximum of 20 minutes. Otherwise, it may work to increase blood flow to the area again. Ideally, the source recommends that you ice for 10 minutes every hour until the swelling has gone down.

When to Turn to Heat

Using heat, like an electronic heating pad or microwavable warming pack, is good for soreness unrelated to swelling or for muscle spasms. The Cleveland Clinic reported that heat will help to relax muscles and get rid of any stiffness.

Applying heat to a sore area can be beneficial before a workout, but it’s important that you only do this if you’re sure you don’t have a serious injury. A little stiffness in the calves after a hard day of dancing is common, but if you rolled your ankle the day before you don’t want to try to push through that pain. Use heat to relax stiff muscles to improve flexibility and prevent strains before dancing again.

Heat should never be applied to acute pain or swollen areas. The warmth will increase blood flow, which will allow a swollen muscle to expand even more. Dance Teacher Magazine reported that you should wait at least 48 hours after an injury to make sure swelling is gone before switching from ice to heat therapy.

When to See a Doctor

The most important thing about treating pain is making sure you aren’t ignoring a serious injury. While you may tell yourself that the show must go on and try to dance through it, you could actually be causing yourself to spend more time away from dance by creating a bigger problem than you started with. The medical experts at the Mayo Clinic said that most minor injuries can be treated with home remedies at first, but if pain persists you’ll need to visit a doctor to rule out any significant problems.

If there is major swelling or the pain is excruciating, you need to see a medical professional right away. If you can’t put any pressure on the injured area, like carrying something when you have a sore wrist or walking on a bad ankle, that’s also a sign that you shouldn’t wait for treatment.

Otherwise, just be sure to use the right timing for ice or heat and make sure to get plenty of rest while you’re feeling pain.

Brandi Vickers

Brandi has a strong history in both dance and customer support and blends her areas of expertise in her role as TutuTix’s director of sales for the midwest. Her goal is to take some of the recital-time anxiety off studio owners’ shoulders, and make sure every client has a great experience.