The Rule of Thumb for treating cycling injuries and sore muscles with Cold, Heat, or Both!
If you ride long enough, you will inevitably experience pain or discomfort along the way. Whether it is optimism or denial, we don’t like to think about when that time comes. Or what we will do when it does.
Should you reach for the heating pad or a bag of frozen peas?
Rule One - If it’s swollen and painful, use COLD!
If you sustained a recent injury (within the last 48 hours) where there is swelling (edema), you should be using COLD.
The application of cold to an injury causes the blood vessels to shrink (vasoconstriction), reduce blood flow, and decrease swelling and inflammation.
As a result, cold therapy will minimize swelling, reduce bleeding into your tissues, and reduce muscle spasms. In addition, cold also has a numbing effect which aids in pain control.
Use ice to treat new (acute) injuries, such as sprains, strains, bruises (contusions), and tendinitis.
Rule Two - If it’s stiff and achy, use HEAT!
If you suffer from a nagging ache or prolonged stiffness of a muscle or joint, you should be using HEAT.
The application of warmth to a chronic injury will relax muscles, improve the flexibility of your tissues, and stimulate blood flow to the area to promote the body’s natural healing process.
Combining heat with gentle stretching aids recovery by soothing tight muscles and improving flexibility.
One notable exception, if you aggravate an existing injury and swelling or inflammation results, refer to Rule One.
Use heat for ongoing (chronic) non-inflammatory pain and stiffness, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, back, or neck pain.
Rule Three - If it’s a recently strained muscle, use BOTH!
A recently strained or pulled muscle will benefit from both; therefore, you should be using COLD and HEAT!
The application of cold to a newly pulled muscle for the first 48 hours will control swelling and modulate the inflammatory process. Once the initial inflammation resolves, the swelling subsides, and the sharp pain is under control, switching to heat will relax the muscle and restore flexibility and strength.
If you reinjure or strain the area when returning to activity, refer to Rule One and Two.
A Few More Precautions - Don’t use cold or heat:
The Key Takeaway
Cold and Heat work in opposite ways, but each provides a therapeutic benefit when used correctly and if the timing is appropriate. Therefore, sound knowledge of how and when to utilize this powerful healing modality is essential to all cyclists, especially as we age.
And, of course, always consult a medical professional to determine a protocol.
Put this one in the pouch of your memory jersey, and I hope you never have to use it. But you will be prepared if you do!
What works best for you?
Cold, heat, or both works best for you? Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit, and through its work and the pages of this site, Chris is committed to helping others with his bike. His gain cave is located on the North Fork of Long Island where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two college student children.