To ice? Or to heat? That is the question - especially when it comes to running. When you've got a running injury it can be tricky to know if you should use hot or cold therapy. While we might not provide instruction as eloquently as Mr. Shakespeare himself, our Idaho Falls hospital can provide instruction that's a little more with the times.

If you're an avid runner, or if you're getting ready to run the Grand Teton Relay this August, you know that running is good for your heart and great for your soul (especially when you're running a relay with teammates!). However, getting injured during a run isn't good or great. So what do you do if you start to feel the aches and pains from the pounding pavement? Deciding whether to use ice or heat on a running injury is like playing a real life game of Hot and Cold. It's difficult to know when to break out the heating pad or the ice pack, so follow these tips to ensure you're getting “hot” to keep you moving in the right direction.

Types of Running Injuries: Chronic vs. Acute

First things first, before you decide between hot and cold, you've got to ascertain what kind of injury you have. Typically, runners have either acute injuries or chronic injuries. An acute injury occurs suddenly and typically causes immediate pain. More often than not, these types of injuries are caused by some kind of impact or trauma: think ankle sprain.

Chronic injuries are a little different. They tend to develop over a longer duration of time. The pain they cause can come and go and is often described as being dull or sore. These types of injuries are usually the result of overuse and can develop when an acute injury isn't treated properly.

Ice vs. Heat: Running Injury

So what should you choose? Hot or cold? If you've suffered an acute injury, try cold therapy. It's the best immediate treatment for something like a sprain, because it reduces swelling and pain by causing the blood vessels to narrow. It can also limit internal bleeding at the spot that you've been injured.

To ice an injury, get an ice pack and apply it to the injury. If you don't have an ice pack, wrap some ice cubes in a thin towel or washcloth and then place it on the injury for 10 minutes at a time. Make sure you allow your skin's temperature to return to normal before you ice it for a second or third time.

If you're suffering from more chronic soreness, nagging muscles, or pain in your joints, try using heat therapy to ease your symptoms. Heat will increase the circulation and increase the elasticity of your muscles and joint tissue. It can also help you relax. Try using a hot, wet towel or a heating pad for 15-20 minutes at a time.

It's also important to know that you can, in fact, use both cold therapy and heat therapy to treat running injuries - you just have to know when to use each type of treatment. Remember:

  • Heat Therapy: If you have muscles tenderness or tightness, apply heat to help the muscles loosen and relax.
  • Cold Therapy: As aforementioned, apply ice immediately after an acute injury or irritating a chronic injury. Ice is used to reduce swelling and inflammation.

EIRMC wants you to keep pounding the pavement, but not at the expense of your body. If you continue to suffer from any acute or chronic pain due to a running injury, it might be time to see an orthopedic specialist to get you back on the road, trail, or in the race!