Heat vs Ice: What is Best for Your Pain?

Heat vs Ice: What is Best for Your Pain?

Why does ICE help

  • Ice constricts blood vessels, which can reduce inflammation of a recent injury.
  • Reducing inflammation can calm down swelling, tenderness, and pain.
  • Ice will also temporarily numb the area.

Why does HEAT help?

  • Heat increases blood flow by expanding blood vessels.
  • Increased blood flow can help relax a tight muscle, restore movement, and reduce pain.
  • Heat eases stiffness after inflammation has resolved.

When is the correct time to use ICE?

  • Injuries LESS than 6 weeks old.
  • Right after an injury occurs.
  • After an activity that aggravates a chronic musculoskeletal problem.
  • Examples
    • Strains – pulled muscle or tendons (back, neck, legs, shoulder, etc.)
    • Sprains – stretching of ligaments in joints (knee, ankle, foot, elbow, etc.)
    • Muscle spasms
  • Ice may be used for injuries greater than 6 weeks old immediately after increased activity, exercise, pain or swelling.

When is the correct time to use HEAT

  • Injuries LESS than 6 weeks old.
  • Heat is used to loosen up the tight muscles and/or joints before activity.
  • After an activity that aggravates a chronic musculoskeletal problem.
  • Examples.
    • Osteoarthritis
    • Chronic sprains to the ankle, foot, elbow, knee.
    • Chronic strains to muscle
  • Do NOT use heat for the first 48 hours after an injury or exacerbation of a chronic injury. This will increase inflammation, swelling and pain.

Helpful Tips:

  • When applying heat or ice, only treat area for 20 minutes at a time.
  • Do not apply heat or ice directly to the skin. Use a thin towel between heat or ice and skin to prevent burn.
  • Use heat and ice with caution if you have decreased sensation to the affected area, for example, neuropathy related to diabe