Few things are certain in life, but aches and pains are a given, especially as we age.
Research shows that older adults are more active than ever, donning sneakers for a game of pickleball, hitting the trails to train for a marathon, even digging in the dirt to tend to a garden. (Trust us when we say that all the major muscle groups are working when you’re out there weeding, raking and planting.)
But all this activity, while great for your health, can leave you with some pain — be it a pulled muscle or inflamed joints. Ice and heat therapy have long been the go-to methods to relieve pain, but confusion persists over which to choose. Here’s what the experts have to say.
When to chill
You just hurt yourself. Ice can help to numb the pain and decrease swelling, explains Andrew M. Walker, the health and wellness manager for the nonprofit National Senior Games Association, which is why it’s a go-to for sudden, or acute, injuries.
“Let’s say you sprained your ankle and there is acute swelling,” says Michael Fredericson, M.D., a sports medicine physician and founder and director of Stanford University’s RunSafe Injury Prevention Program. “Ice can help control pain [and is] very good at decreasing inflammation and swelling.”
Ice isn’t a stand-in for a trip to the doctor’s office. That said, minor sports injuries can usually be treated at home by using the R.I.C.E. method, an acronym for the four elements of a treatment regimen: rest, ice, compression and elevation, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
“You do want to elevate [the injured area], you want to put compression on, you want to have ice on there. You don’t want to start motion right away with an acute injury,” Fredericson says.