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What Is Better to Put on a Pulled Hamstring: Ice or Heat?

author image Kim Nunley
Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.
What Is Better to Put on a Pulled Hamstring: Ice or Heat?
Sprinters often strain their hamstrings. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images

Athletes often suffer from pulled hamstrings. When you pull, or strain, your hamstrings, you’ve torn or overstretched the muscular tissue. This most commonly occurs when your hamstrings simultaneously contract while lengthening, such as when you’re sprinting. Immediately treating the injury appropriately can help facilitate healing. Along with rest, compression and elevation, applying ice to the injured area is recommended.

The Right Treatment

It’s ice that you want to apply to your injured hamstrings after a strain. The cold treatment helps stop internal bleeding in the damaged tissue and reduces swelling and inflammation. When ice is applied to your injured hamstrings, the cold causes your blood vessels to constrict, which limits the amount of blood flow. This in turn facilitates the healing process. Columbia University Health also adds that lowering the temperature of the injured area can help curb tissue damage. In addition to icing your hamstrings regularly, resting, compressing and elevating the injury also support the healing process.

Applying Ice Correctly

Incorporate ice treatment 48 to 72 hours after you’ve pulled your hamstrings. The National Health Service in England recommends wrapping the ice in a damp towel and applying it to the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours throughout the day. You don’t want to keep ice on your body for longer than 20 minutes or while you’re sleeping, because it could cold burn your skin.

The Problem with Heat

The reason you don’t want to apply heat after you’ve pulled your hamstrings is because doing so will significantly increase blood flow to the area, which in turn will increase swelling and adversely affect the immediate healing process. While heat helps to loosen muscles that are sore or cramped, the Association of Ringside Physicians notes that it should not be used for acute injuries like muscle strains. Once you’ve completely recovered from your injury, heat can be incorporated into your regimen if you’re trying to decrease stiffness in your hamstrings.

Preventing Future Strains

Once you’ve pulled your hamstrings, the muscle is more susceptible to future problems. To reduce your risk of straining the muscle again, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends incorporating a strengthening program that targets your weakened muscles, stretching your hamstrings daily, properly warming up before any exercise activity and wearing proper footwear for the sport or physical activity that you’re participating in. The warm-up you do before exercise should be dynamic, which means it should involve a bout of light-intensity cardio, as well as stretches that take your legs through a range of motion, for example, straight-leg kicks, leg swings and high knee and butt-kick jogs.

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