Should I Use Ice or Heat for a Strained Muscle?

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Should I Use Ice or Heat for a Strained Muscle? Here’s What You Should Know

Muscle strain is a common muscle-related condition that can affect anyone, anytime.

While the root cause of muscle soreness and strain may differ, they can lead to the same debilitating symptoms, such as pain, swelling, and difficulty moving, which can affect your everyday life.

Once you’ve strained a muscle, it can be hard to know precisely what you should do to treat it. One of the most common suggestions is using ice or heat to relieve swelling and pain, but which is better?

Knowing how to treat muscle strain is an essential part of your overall healing process and can impact your pain, swelling, and long-term muscle recovery.

Let’s discuss muscle strains in more detail below, including what it is and whether ice or heat should be used for a strained muscle. 

First, What Is a Muscle Strain?

A muscle strain is a direct injury to your muscle or tendon.

It is often called a “pulled muscle” and can have various underlying causes, including overworking a muscle, an accident, poor posture, or lifting an object incorrectly.

Muscle strains occur when muscle or tendon fibers are overstretched. In rare cases, a muscle strain may be caused by torn muscle tissue.


When you strain a muscle, symptoms can range from mild to severe and often include the following:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising or redness
  • Difficulty or inability to use the affected muscle
  • Sudden sharp pain when using the affected muscle
  • Pain at rest
  • Tenderness

The Three Levels of Muscle Strain

Muscle strain is broken down into three different grades by severity. They include

  1. Grade I:

A mild strain that damages less than 5% of muscle fibers

  1. Grade II:

A strain that leads to significant loss of muscle movement affecting many muscle fibers

  1. Grade III: 

Considered the most severe muscle strain, Grade III involves a muscle or tendon rupture resulting in significant swelling and intense and constant pain

Should I Use Ice or Heat to Treat a Strained Muscle?

The short answer is that it depends.

Treating a strained muscle with ice and heat may be the best option to prompt healing and reduce swelling and pain.

As a general rule of thumb, icing is best for an isolated, acute injury, while heating is ideal for chronic muscle aches and pains.

For most with mild to moderate muscle strains, following the “RICE” rule works great. This method includes icing to reduce swelling, rest, compression to support, and elevation to prevent swelling and fluid retention.

Along with ice to reduce swelling, heat also promotes healing through swelling and pain reduction. Ice is the best for initial treatment, while using a heating pad a few times a day about three days after the initial injury is most helpful.

You should never apply heat directly to bare skin when using heat therapy. Instead, always wrap the heating pad in a towel or other layer of protection before placing it on your injured muscle.

Other Muscle Strain Treatment Options

While both heating and icing are great options to care for muscle strain, other effective treatment includes

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers to alleviate pain
  • Light stretching
  • Physical therapy for more severe strains

When to Visit Thibodaux Regional Urgent Care for a Muscle Strain

The good news is that most muscle strains heal on their own with at-home treatment, rest, and time.

If you are experiencing moderate to severe muscle strain, we recommend visiting Thibodaux Regional Urgent Care for further evaluation and treatment, especially if

  • You feel or hear a “pop” in your muscle
  • Your muscles become swollen
  • The affected area changes color
  • You cannot move the area where the injured muscle is located
  • Your symptoms worsen after the first 48 hours

We are open seven days a week to provide fast and effective treatment for your strained muscle. Don’t delay care. Walk in to get the treatment you need now and start feeling better sooner.

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