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Published: August 20, 2018

Ice or Heat? Which is Best for the Situation?

[vc_row][vc_column width="1/1"][vc_column_text]By: Active Sports Therapy

When deciding what to do with your injury, it might be hard to decide between ice and heat. They are both natural, easy, and affordable ways of relieving pain, but which is best for the situation at hand?

What is ice for?

Ice is for new injuries and can usually be applied immediately. It can act as a way to settle down your damaged tissues that might be inflamed or swollen, essentially numbing the pain. It works by reducing blood flow to the area, therefore reducing inflammation and swelling that causes pain. The benefits of icing are that it’s no-cost/low-cost, drugless and immediately accessible.

Examples of when to use ice might be:

Acute pain

New Injury

Bruise or sprain

In some cases, overuse injuries


Cautions for using ice:

  • Leaving the ice on too long can cause damage to the skin (10-15 minutes maximum).
  • Don’t put the cold directly on your skin as this can cause damage as well. Placing a towel or piece of cloth in between will help with this.
  • Don’t put ice on a joint that is stiff or on a muscle spasm as this can make it worse.
  • Apply to dry skin as wet skin might be more likely to result in frostbite.

When to Apply Heat

Heat is best used in the case of chronic pain, stress, and for aching muscles. It can provide stress relief and can be comforting to a person. It can help with many kinds of body pain, including persistent pain connected to stiffness, cramps, trigger points, muscle ‘knots’ spasms, and daily stress on the body. You would not use heat for an acute injury because it can increase inflammation and delay healing.

Examples of when to use heat might be:

Tension headaches

Tight joints or muscles

Helping relieve the discomfort of a ‘knot’

Old injuries


Cautions for using heat:

  • Treat for no longer than 20 minutes at a time.
  • Avoid falling asleep on a hot pack (you can find electric heating pads with auto-shut off timers).
  • Do not use if you have poor circulation, such as diabetes (talk to your doctor before using heat therapy).
  • Place a thin towel between the heat and the area to avoid burns.

Of course, talk to your practitioner about your specific injury for sound advice. In some cases, you’ll be the deciding factor. If one feels better than the other for your specific issue then you need to consider that as part of your plan.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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