How to Treat Running Injuries

Icing and Heating Running Injuries

Let's say you've returned from the doctor's office with directions on how to treat your recent running injury. The note states you should ice the injury to reduce inflammation, but not to apply heat. You wonder: Why ice and not heat?

Since running injuries cause swelling and inflammation of tissues, muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones, the goal is to reduce these symptoms as soon as possible. Luckily, icing the injury is a natural way to cut back inflammation. Heating, on the other hand, is not.

Using ice is recommended for many sports-related injuries, and it's an integral part of the RICE, method: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation [source: Mayo Clinic Staff]. In addition to reducing inflammation and swelling, gentle ice massages can help relax tight or strained areas. Standard ice packs work well, but be sure to place a damp cloth between your skin and the pack to avoid frost bite. Some running enthusiasts recommend using bags of frozen vegetables, as they're light and flexible enough to ice an area without being cumbersome. Injuries on the plantar area on the foot can be iced and massaged simultaneously by rolling the foot over a frozen water bottle [source: Pribut]. Generally, ice shouldn't be applied for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Applying heat is not recommended for a fresh injury. In fact, it does the opposite of ice -- heat increases blood flow, which worsens inflammation and swelling. Before you write off heat altogether, though, you should consider its use for tight muscles before exercise. Depending on what your doctor says, using heat may be an option to loosen up muscles before workouts. Several companies sell heat pads for orthopedic use, but a wet towel with hot water will suffice, as well. Heating a problem area for a maximum of 20 minutes will make stretching those muscles easier and more productive. Don't apply heat after a workout.

As noted in the RICE method, compression is another well-known treatment for running injuries. Become versed in the art of wrapping injuries next.