Whether you are an armchair athlete or an ultramarathoner, you will undoubtedly have an injury at some point. One of the fastest and easiest ways to recover is with heat and cold therapy. While it might seem like bad luck to plan for a possible injury, the reality is that more than 3.5 million children ages 14 and younger get hurt annually playing sports or participating in recreational activities. Why not keep a hot and cold pack on hand as part of your household’s first aid kit for yourself or your family? The sooner you can apply heat or cold for most common sports injuries, the quicker you can start feeling relief.
What Are the Most Common Types of Sports Injuries?
According to the CDC, sports injuries are most common in children and younger adults 5-24 years old. The most common sports injuries are sprains and strains. Other common sports injuries are:
- Ankle sprain
- Groin pull (inner muscles of the thigh)
- Shin splints
- Knee injuries (either a torn ACL or pain related to chronic use)
- Tennis Elbow
- Shoulder Rotator Cuff Injuries
What Are the Symptoms of an Injury, Strain, or Sprain?
The most common signs and symptoms of an acute sprain or strain are:
- Sudden pain
- Inability to place weight on your foot, ankle, knee, or leg
- Difficulty moving your leg, arm, wrist, or injured body part
Any time you have large amounts of swelling, you cannot bear weight, or can’t move the injured body part after the first several hours after your injury, you should check in with your doctor.
How Can Sports Injuries Be Prevented?
Stretching and warming up before an activity is the best prevention strategy. Using moist heat therapy before stretching is a great way to prepare your muscles for your workout. The moist heat increases blood flow to your tissues and flexibility of joints and muscles.
Other tips for staying injury-free include:
- Having proper technique and equipment
- Taking it easy
- Cooling down after the activity
Cooling down involves doing some aerobic activity at a lower intensity or slower pace. Endurance athletes like runners benefit most from a cool down. Your muscles relax as your heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure return to normal.
Cooling down can also include cold therapy, such as using a Thermalon cold pad, to remove harmful substances that buildup during a workout such as lactic acid. High levels of lactic acid can cause muscle pain and stiffness the next day. If your muscles are still stiff from your last workout, you are more likely to injure yourself the next time you take the field.
How to Treat a Sports Injury?
Fortunately, most sports injuries are mild and able to heal on their own. Right after your injury, doctors recommend following the RICE technique:
R – Rest
I – Ice
C – Compression (wrapping or taping the injured limb or joint to limit swelling)
E – Elevation to limit swelling and inflammation
One of the toughest pieces of recovery advice to follow is to rest. By not hurrying your recovery you actually heal more quickly and reduce your risk for re-injury.
When Should You Use Cold to Treat Sports Injuries?
Use ice for 20 minutes every one to two hours for the first 48 hours after hurting yourself. Avoid using heat immediately after the injury. It will make things worse by encouraging swelling and inflammation. Cold is most effective when applied directly after hurting yourself- that is why it is important to keep a cold joint wrap in your freezer for acute pain relief.
Using cold compresses will temporarily numb the pain of muscle strains and pulls. Cold is especially good at reducing swelling. It is this swelling that can make injured joints more painful. The types of sports injuries best treated with ice are: mild ankle sprains, shin splints, and groin pulls.
Cold therapy after exercising, even if you have not injured yourself, may help speed recovery. You may not be ready to submerge your body in a full-on ice bath as some professional athletes do. Still, intermittent icing with a cold wrap after a particularly intense workout or race will help reduce pain and maintain muscle strength.
When Should I Use Heat to Treat My Sports Injuries?
Heat, especially the moist heat delivered by Thermalon’s HydroPearlsTM, works best for chronic sports injuries- injuries you have had for a long time. It also promotes healing in the days and weeks after your injury. Heat increases blood flow to injured joints, muscles, and tendons, reducing inflammation and speeding healing. Moist heat is better than dry heat because moist heat penetrates deeper into injured tissues. Heat also alters the sensation of pain on your skin so you don’t hurt as much.
Apply heat packs for 20 minutes at a time. Thermalon moist heat pads are microwave activated so you don’t need to plug it in like traditional electric heating pads. The unique sleeve design is ideal for slipping around injured joints such as ankles, wrists, or shoulders.
Heat therapy works exceptionally well to improve the pain of chronic injuries and conditions with stiff or scarred tissues such as:
- Nagging shoulder injuries
- Old strains or sprains (especially ankle, groin, or hamstring)
- Tennis elbow, but used alternately with ice, never immediately after exercising.
Heat works to relax tight or spasming muscles, such as a pulled groin or torn ACL. If you are recovering from an injury or have a chronic injury, applying moist heat 15-20 minutes before exercise can help warm up muscles and increase flexibility. Heat should not be used immediately after a sports injury, if an injured area is numb, if there is an open wound or burn, or there is any risk of overheating from fever or heat stress.
When You Need to Recover From Life’s Bumps and Bruises
You don’t need to have a sports-related injury to appreciate the calming and soothing effects of therapeutic hot and cold packs. It is a lot quicker and easier to microwave the heat wrap than to run yourself a hot bath. A cold pack resting over your eyes or forehead will do wonders for a headache or tired, dry eyes. All the more reason to stock your home’s first aid kit with a Thermalon hot and cold wrap.
Do you know other weekend warriors who could benefit from some hot or cold therapy? Please share this post and its helpful tips for treating sports injuries!