Ice vs. Heat


When you have pain or a strain, it’s important to know when to use heat and when to use ice.

For new injuries, it is important to use ice, especially within the first 24-48 hours of the injury to help manage the initial pain and swelling.  Ice works by decreasing the blood flow to the injured area and deceasing the amount of inflammatory factors that can reach the area.

Heat can be used 2-3 days after injury or the initial pain to help with stiffness and spasms. Heat therapy applied to new injuries can have the potential to increase the inflammation and potentially make things worse. Heat works by opening the blood vessels and allows nutrients and offer factors into the area. It also relaxes muscles and tendons allowing for better range of motion. 

Ice Therapy

Ice therapy is effective in reducing inflammation, minimizing tissue damage, numbing tissue (acts as anesthetic) and decreasing pain.
• Cold packs
• Ice cubes, a bag of frozen peas, or a cold towel compress
• A cool bath
• With any new injury it is recommended to apply ice to the injured body part for 10-15 minute intervals 2-3 times per day for the first few days following the injury.

Heat Therapy

Heat therapy is useful in reducing muscle spasms, relaxing sore muscles, reducing stiffness and of course reducing pain. Heat therapy can be done with either a dry heat or moist heat.
• Hot compress/pack
• Hydrotherapy (hot bath)
• Heating pad (dry or moist)
• Steamed towels
• For aches and pains that have lingered for more than 2 weeks, heat therapy  could provide the most benefit when muscles and joints are tight. Apply heat therapy for 10-15 minute intervals 2-3 times per day if possible.

Remember when applying heat or ice do not apply directly onto your skin. Place a barrier such as a towel or padding between the heat or ice and your skin.