The Hot and Cold Effect of Sports Creams

If you want to enjoy the effects of thermotherapy or cryotherapy, sports creams can be a great ally. In this article, you can learn more about this!
The Hot and Cold Effect of Sports Creams

Last update: 26 October, 2020

There are many ways to apply heat and cold on the body’s muscles and soft tissues. One of the simplest and non-invasive methods is to use sports creams. Are they effective? In which situations would you want cold or hot effects?

Another way to treat musculoskeletal conditions

Muscle ailments are classic problems that affect both athletes and non-athletes. You can run for an hour and have delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or carry shopping bags home and notice shoulder discomfort.

Thus, having ways to relieve muscle pain at home is very important. And the hot and cold effects of sports creams are very effective in this regard. A treatment that delivers different temperatures to subcutaneous soft tissues can have different effects.

Generally, heat is best for sports activities or for relaxing a muscle that’s been contracted for more than 24 hours. Increasing blood supply to the area will help the muscles face the challenge of playing a sport. It’s also important to move the muscle since this makes blood components related to tissue recovery, reach the area.

On the other hand, cold is indicated for immediate ailments. If you just finished practicing a sport and feel discomfort, or even if you made a bad move and a specific area begins to swell, slowing down blood supply will help. It helps by controlling the inflammation that the body responds to any similar problem with.

Now you know the benefits of thermotherapy and cryotherapy. But how can you take advantage of them? Here are some of them:

  • Immerse the affected area in hot or cold water.
  • Have a cooling or heated neck cushion at home.
  • A physical therapist can give you a massage.
  • Apply an ice pack.
  • Heat the area with infrared light.
A physical therapist applying heat on an injury.
Physical therapists often apply heat to injuries to help them recover.

However, you can’t submerge your ankle in water in the middle of a soccer field nor will a cushion apply the same pressure on all tissues. And you can’t take a physical therapist with you everywhere you go! That’s when the alternative of sports creams arises.

Sports creams

Sports creams are a comfortable and effective way to take advantage of the benefits of thermotherapy and cryotherapy. There are many different brand names. Each of them contains different components to produce other effects, such as analgesia. All you need to make sure is that the one you choose provides hot and cold effects.

As they’re topical solutions, meaning they’re applied to the skin, you have to understand that their penetration will be limited. This means that if a superficial muscle hurts, such as the biceps, massaging a sports cream over the area will make the effect pass through the different layers of the dermis through the subcutaneous tissue until it finally reaches the muscle.

However, if you have discomfort in the pectoralis minor or soleus, (to name two examples of deep muscles) sports creams won’t prove very helpful.


Keep in mind that, although hot and cold are good allies for muscle ailments, they aren’t a panacea. A thermotherapy treatment should be accompanied by exercises, stretching, or muscle manipulation (massage). On the other hand, cryotherapy should be complemented with rest to “reset” the muscle and return it to its initial situation.

A woman with an ice pack on her shoulder.
In short, knowing whether to apply heat or cold to an injury is important to relieve your symptoms.

That being said, if you have discomfort for a few days, neck pain, or if your partner can massage your back if you have back pain, a heat effect sports cream will be really helpful.

On the other hand, if your ankle is swollen after playing a sport or your elbow hurts after chopping some vegetables in the kitchen, a cream with a cold effect will immediately relieve your pain.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Mitos en educación física y deporte: ¿reto superado o anclados en el pasado? José G.B. Ribalta: Quaderns d´aplicació didàctica i investigació, ISSN 1132-1814, Nº. 21, 2014, págs. 111-122 (2014)
  • Roger E. and Daniel P. Effects of cold water immersion on the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage. Journal of Sports Sciences. Vol 17 (1999). Issue 3, pages 231-238.
  • Paul C., Adam L., Andrew P., Anthony W., Peter W., and Neil S. Precooling leg muscle improves intermittent sprint exercise performance in hot, humid conditions. Journal of Applied Physiology. Vol 100, Issue 4, Pages 1377-1384 (2006)

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.