We’re going to do it.  Here at Calisthenics Gear, we are going to answer one of the most controversial questions of all. 

Is ice or heat better for sore muscles?  We’ve given you workout recovery tools and sauna information after a workout, but is heat better than ice or vice versa? 

Regardless of the winner, muscle soreness is a real thing post-workout, so we need some form of recovery. 

The best way to combat muscle soreness is an excellent stretching and warm-up before you even get started. 

You already knew that, right?  Let’s let ice and heat duke it out and find out who the winner is. 

Cold Therapy 

The chances are that if you are working out in the heat of the summer, cold therapy for muscle soreness sounds pretty fantastic. 

We might feel differently once winter comes.  What does cold therapy do precisely? 

When you put an ice pack on your muscles, it restricts blood flow to the area by restricting the blood vessels. 

This will cause the inflammation in the area to decrease and reduce swelling.  Of course, ice acts as a numbing agent, so it can relieve your pain while being applied too. 

Never put the ice pack directly on your skin as it could burn. 



Cryotherapy is a fancy way of stating that you are applying cold to something. 

It comes in the form of ice baths and nitrogen chambers.  Many athletes use an ice bath after an intense workout session to help relieve muscle and joint pain. 

While things like an ice pack, ice bath, or nitrogen chamber can be used for muscle soreness, cryotherapies seem to work better for injuries and joint pain. 

If applied within the first 48 hours after training or an injury, they can vastly reduce inflammation and swelling that causes pain and help to increase recovery time. 

People with gout, osteoarthritis, joint sprains, and tendonitis often experience excellent results from utilizing cryotherapy.

Heat Therapy

While cold therapy benefits injuries by restricting blood flow and constricting blood vessels, heat therapy does the exact opposite to relieve muscle soreness. 

As you apply a heating pad or other heat element to your body, the blood flow increases as blood vessels dilate.  As that happens, more oxygen and nutrients can flow to your muscles to relieve pain and break down lactic acid. 

Let’s be honest.  In the prime winter months, heat after your workouts sounds fantastic.  Plus, heat therapy seems to be most people’s preference to ease tension and relax. 

It’s best to apply heat therapy within 24 hours of your workout to get the most recovery from it.  

Heat therapy comes in a variety of different avenues.  Anything from a heating pad to a sauna to a hot tub can be utilized to treat muscle soreness, cramps, and arthritis. 

Many athletes use heat after tough workouts to help reduce recovery time.  

While heat therapy might be the best for muscle soreness, it is not recommended for injuries.  Always seek medical advice first if you think you have sprained or strained something. 

To help reduce inflammation and swelling, doctors will usually advise you to make sure you keep ice on it for the first 48 hours. 

If you were to apply heat therapy to the area, you would end up with more inflammation and swelling, increasing your pain and increasing the recovery time of your injury.  

Alternating Cold and Heat

What if cold and heat therapy could work together?  Now that would be fun and maybe quite beneficial for your muscle recovery. 

Many athletes alternate between hot and cold treatments for helping their muscles after exercising. 

One of the benefits is it helps with DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness after starting a new exercise program. 

Working your muscles differently can cause this, and it can hurt.  By constricting and dilating blood vessels with alternating the therapies, you promote quicker muscle recovery.  

Other Recovery Techniques

While heat therapy won the match-up on relieving muscle soreness, several other techniques can help too. 

Being fully hydrated, stretching before and after a workout, massages (you’re welcome), and rest are all beneficial when relieving muscle soreness. 

You can take medications too; just go for a pain-reliever without a steroid. 

Any of those treatment options can reduce your pain after an excellent fitness session.  

Final Thoughts on Muscle Soreness

Muscle soreness is inevitable when you exercise and put your health first. 

While cold therapy is excellent for joint pain and to help heal injuries, heat therapy wins when it comes to relieving DOMS and tension and improving circulation for muscle recovery. 

Get the most out of your post-workout recovery.  Oh, and don’t forget that massages are a helpful technique as well. 

Say hello to some spa time!

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