Heat and Ice Treatments in Sports Massage


There are many benefits to using Heat and Ice in sports massage and the sports massage therapist may use these as part of a sports massage treatment to help relieve the pain the client is feeling.

Heat is most beneficial at the chronic stage of the injury (when pain is still felt 6 weeks after injury has occurred). As applying heat to an area which is swollen at the acute stage of the injury (this is just after the injury has happened) can cause more damage to the tissue. Heat compressions can be used at the beginning of a sporting activity as this warms up the muscle fibres making them less prone to injury. The effects heat has on the muscles are as follows;

  • Relax the muscle fibres; heat will bring the blood into the fibres which will make the capillaries expand and makes stretching easier to achieve. Stretching elongates the sarcomares, which helps them to revert back to their relaxed state.

  • Increases the blood flow; as the capillaries fill with blood they feed the nutrients to the muscle fibres which will help them back into their relaxed state.

  • Helps to remove Lactic acid; along with the increase of the blood flow the lymph flow will increase which will help to disperse the build up of lactic acid.

  • Makes muscles more pliable quicker; this is so that if the therapist needs to get into the deeper muscle tissue they can do so quicker and easier which in turn means that the trigger point to muscle tension is dispersed quicker relieving the clients pain.

However the overuse of heat can cause damage to the muscle fibres or skin. It is advisable to put a cloth between the heat source and skin. A good way to apply heat is with a damp cloth which has been soaked in hot water, you can also purchase wheat bags which you can heat in the microwave which can help relieve the muscle tension.
Ice is best used after a sporting event or at the acute stage of an injury as if used before can cause further injury. The effects of Ice on the muscle fibres are as follows

  • Reduction of inflammation; as ice will contract the capillaries it will slow down the flow of blood to the area, the body over reacts to an injury and pumps a load of blood to the injury site which is unnecessary and is the cause of inflammation. Basically ice sends an unnecessary work force away so the body can concentrate on the problem at hand and start to repair itself.

  • Reduces internal bleeding; when the skin is cut it bleeds so do the muscles, ligaments and tendons. As ice reduces the flow of blood to the area it will slow down further damage caused by internal bleeding.

  • Decrease muscle spasm; as ice forces the muscle to contract and acts as a pain relieve it can help reduce muscle spasms and the pain associated with it. A muscle spasm is an involuntary muscle contraction, these can happen as a result of exercise or every day activities.

  • Numbing the pain; as ice takes the blood away from the injury it numbs the area, this is the point when you should remove the ice or you could cause more damage to the area and your skin. A good thing to remember here is when it’s numb you’re done.

  • Slows down the circulation; as the capillaries contract they slow the blood flow to the affected area which give the body time to assess the damage caused and start to fix it.

As with heat Ice can cause damage to the skin and muscles if over used or used incorrectly. You can use frozen peas buy ice packs or put a wheat bag into the freezer. Make sure there is a layer of cloth between the ice source and the skin and remember “when it’s numb you’re done.”

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