Ice vs. Heat: The Great Debate Unraveled

by Tim Drevna, April 30, 2015


The use of ice and heat are easy and noninvasive ways to help reduce pain. A question we frequently get in our office is, “When should I use ice and when should I use heat?” While every injury and body is different, the following are some simple guidelines to help you choose.

Ice Therapy

Ice should be applied to acute or recently injured muscles and joints. Cold causes blood vessels to constrict resulting in decreased inflammation, decreased swelling accumulation, numbing of the pain, and helping to reduce bruising. It is best to apply ice to the affected area for 15 -20 minutes at a time; no greater than once an hour to avoid tissue damage, including frostbite. Icing may make the joint feel stiff and less flexible (which is a normal response) and, therefore, it is best to use ice following exercise rather than before. Along with icing, elevating the affected area above your heart can aide in decreasing swelling.


Heat Therapy

Heat should be applied to more chronic type injuries when there is no fluctuation in swelling. Heat increases blood flow, relaxes tight muscles, and decreases pain. Applying heat prior to exercise can promote blood flow and temporarily improve elasticity of surrounding tissues. Caution should be taken when using heat to avoid topical burns. Heat should be applied for approximately 20 minutes at a time and never when sleeping.

There are various forms of heat and ice treatment, some of which are:

-Electric heating blanket

-Bag of frozen vegetables

-Frozen water bottle

-Microwaveable or freezable gel packs

-Warm/cool showers

-Towel soaked in cold or hot water


After taking into consideration your type of injury it can ultimately come down to what feels best and provides you with the most comfort. If you are still uncertain what is best for you, give us a call and we’ll help you decide.


Good luck!

Mandy Zeamer



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