If you have a regular exercise practice, you’re bound to overdo it at some point. What’s the best way to recover after overexerting yourself during a workout? Research has shown that using ice may not be as effective as you think.

Although icing after a workout makes things feel better in the short run, it can ultimately have detrimental physical effects. An ice bath after intense strength training was shown to reduce long-term gains in muscle mass. At the same time, ice is still the go-to for post-workout aches and pains, because ice numbs your body, which makes you feel better. So if you’re going to do it, you may as well do it right.

How to Ice And for How Long

Ice can reduce swelling in specific areas and ease pain by numbing tissue. If you’ve got a sore spot, apply ice for 20 minutes at a time every four to six hours. You can do this for three days, but if you’re still in pain, it may be time to see a doctor.

Is Icing Right for You?

If you have an ache from over exertion, you should certainly consider icing it to reduce inflammation. If you are trying to use ice to help you push through pain or get back to exercising faster, you should reconsider. Icing to increase performance increases your chances for further injury, because you aren’t giving your body time to heal.

Which Conditions Should Be Iced?

Ice is meant to help damaged muscle tissue by calming down inflammation. If you tore a muscle or you have IT Band Syndrome, ice is for you. For chronic neck or back pain, heat is what you want to use. There’s an exception, of course, if you have sustained a recent injury, in which case ice can be advantageous for the first few days.

Alternative to Ice

There are a lot of mixed results when it comes to research on ice therapy. But new research has shown that you can find relief from post-workout pain from an unexpected source — the trusty foam roller. According to research, massage can reduce the inflammation caused by exercise. With a foam roller, you hit the floor and use the roller to break up tissue or massage tight muscles. As an added perk, it’s significantly less uncomfortable than sitting in a tub of ice water.

Regardless of whether you decide to continue icing, or if you want to rethink your post-workout self-care, the important thing is to be patient with your body. After all, a life of wellness is a marathon, not a sprint.