SATURDAY, Aug. 27, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Easing sore muscles should begin with cold then move to heat, advise experts writing in the August issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter.
For relieving muscle pain caused by sprains and strains, the first step is to apply a cold compress for about 20 minutes at a time every four to six hours for the first few days. The cold should reduce swelling and inflammation, and relieve pain.
A cold compress can be a cold pack, a plastic bag filled with ice, or a bag of frozen vegetables. Wrap the cold compress in a towel or dry cloth to prevent frostbite when placing it on the skin.
The cold treatment should be followed by heat therapy, which can begin after the pain and swelling have subsided. That's usually two to three days after injury. The heat helps relax tight and sore muscles, and reduces pain.
Apply the heat to the injured muscle for 20 minutes up to three times a day using a hot water bottle, warm compress, heat lamp, warm bath or hot shower.
Heat is usually a better treatment than cold for chronic pain (i.e. arthritis pain) or for muscle relaxation, the article noted.
The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about sprains and strains.