Giving Leg Cramps and Muscle Cramps The Hot and Cold Treatment
By Paul Newland
Are hot or cold treatments better for cramps? One of the problems with a cramped muscle is trying to get enough blood flow through the muscle. So if you apply a cold pack, won’t that make things worse? In this article I’ll look at some cold hard facts on what’s best.
I’ve pretty much always subscribed to the R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) theory to treat an injury – but what about if you’re in the middle of an ultra-endurance event, your support crew is half a day away and you need to keep going before it gets dark.
Or what if you have 60 students booked in for a martial arts seminar and they want to see you in action – not the right time to say, “sorry, I seemed to have a cramp and want some ice”.
And not the time to stop and put your feet up.
Says Sports Nutritionist and Trainer Richard Renton on the subject of hot and cold treatment, “If you’re done for the event then putting an ice pack on the muscle and alternating with a hot pack is fine. However if you’re going to continue to perform, then keep the muscle as warm as possible.
If you want to continue to perform and put ice on an injury and keep using it, then during a performance you’re going to create more damage – so applying heat is the thing to do.
After an event, I like to apply ice for the first three hours and then alternate with heat, depending on the extent of the injury – to help with recovery”.
Eastern medicine certainly agrees with this approach with it’s use of moxa, acupressure and acupuncture techniques designed to stimulate blood flow (and generate heat) to an area.
Best advice for runners, sportspeople and anyone who suffers cramps at night is to have a tube arnica gel, tiger balm or ‘CM Cream’ on hand as part of a treatment plan to keep you going.
When I am teaching or training other people I always have a small pot of tiger balm on hand. I’ve found in the case of cramp that once you have squeezed and then stretched the muscle to get it going, a little tiger balm will help increase the blood flow to the affected area.
This cramp relief tactic of applying heat to the area before ice also seems to reduce recovery time. After the event is complete and it’s time to really rest the muscle, follow up with ice treatment.
Dave, a friend of mine who works as a massage therapist in Tasmania has a passion for ultra-endurance events – working on them not competing. It’s a great opportunity to get out of the office and catch some of the great scenery ‘Tassie’ has to offer.
There’s an amazing cross country mountain bike race that’s held annually and goes over 4 days (called the Wildside MTB) one of the chief complaints of the competitors is, you guessed it, leg cramps and muscle soreness.
Taking advantage of the surroundings, Dave gets all the competitors wanting a massage (that’s about all of them) to wade into the icy waters of their lake and beach-side camping areas before he treats them. He says the combination of cold treatment followed by therapeutic massage does wonders for rejuvenating cramped and tired muscles.
After an event (and if you don’t have a mountain lake handy), is to get a paper cup or plastic cup that holds about 120 ml, fill it with water and put it in your freezer and you make a great big popsicle that you can hold on to. After you race or train you peel the paper off and rub the ice on your cramped muscle and it’s an effective and inexpensive way to ice down.
For heat, tiger balm, arnica and CM cream are lightweight and easy to carry in a running pouch, can be purchased commercially for a reasonable price and will act as a lubricant for massage and to assist with initial stretch and recovery in the event of a cramp.
Don’t leave home without them!
The Ultimate Cramp Busting Guide contains detailed video techniques and information on exactly how you should self massage for muscle cramp relief and prevention.