Ice and heat therapy are simple home-based remedies, but they sometimes fail to work because of confusion about which form of therapy works for what is being treated. Ice should be used to calm down injured superficial tissues that are red, inflamed or swollen. Heat should be used to ease the pain of whole muscle spasms or trigger points and the conditions that these parts dominate like the back or neck. It works to soothe the nervous system.
When it comes to ice vs. heat treatments, it is important to get it right. Using heat where ice should be used can worsen inflammation and using ice where heat should be used can increase muscle tension and spasms. Adding heat to a fresh injury will make the pain worse and increase swelling, and ice can make muscle pain and stiffness worse. It is easy to confuse trigger points, which are particularly sensitive as areas that should be iced. Icing trigger points like the back and neck will intensify pain.
Ice should be used on muscle injuries like a muscle tear or strain but not for muscle pain. An actual muscle injury involves obvious trauma from intense impact like a fall or during exercise and when there is sudden, severe pain. If a muscle is torn, icing should be done to take the edge off the inflammation and then heat can be applied.