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Cycling Injuries: Ice vs. Heat

From Northside Hospital Orthopedic Institute

Training to cycle BRAG? Injuries are bound pop up from time to time. Knowing the proper treatment can hasten your recovery and get you back on the saddle.

When should you use ice or heat for a cycling injury?

This is a common question. Surprisingly, there is little research on the subject, despite our frequent use of both.

Ice restricts blood flow and numbs the area to which it is applied. It’s generally recommended for acute (new) injuries or when trying to reduce swelling and inflammation. Given the restriction in blood flow, avoid ice for more chronic (~6 weeks old) injuries as it can limit healing.

Heat, on the other hand, increases blood flow and can loosen stiff, sore tissues. This tends to be more helpful for chronic injuries. Avoid using heat on acute injuries as it may worsen swelling.

For some cycling injuries, it is not uncommon to use different strategies of ice and heat to help your recovery.

How long should you leave ice or heat on a cycling injury?

For ice, you generally want to go with shorter time periods – 10-15 minutes at a time – to avoid irritating the skin. 

Heat may be used for slightly longer periods (up to 20 minutes) but you still want to avoid overdoing it. For more widespread muscular irritation, a longer soak in a warm tub may be called for. 

If you have certain conditions such as neuropathy, diabetes, vascular disease or skin issues, you should consult with your physician before using ice or heat due to the potential for complications.

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