Ice vs. Heat


Ice vs. Heat: Which should I use for my injury?

heat or ice

“I was using heat but I don’t think it was helping.” Or “I have been icing it for weeks, but it’s not healing.” These are questions/statements I hear multiple times a week. Many individuals remain confused as to whether they should use heat or ice for their injury. And when using the wrong one can worsen your pain or delay your healing, it helps to know which is best for you!


What does ice do? 

Ice can help decease pain, swelling and inflammation. Contrary to what many people believe, ice will not help heal an injury. In fact, it can actually delay healing because it decreases oxygen delivery to the area. 


What does heat do? 

Heat can help to decrease pain, muscle tone and muscle spasm, as well as increase muscle extensibility. Heat can also promote tissue repair by increasing metabolic rate, oxygen availability and cell and mediator concentration.


When to use Ice vs. Heat

Though it can be more complicated, I generally advise clients to use ice when the injury first happens, and switch to heat when the signs of acute injury (i.e. swelling, bruising, redness) have subsided. 

To elaborate, heat can be used for pain, muscle spasms, sub-acute tissue injuries (i.e. after the swelling, bruising and redness have gone down), joint stiffness, and for fibrosis or scar tissue. Heat should not be used for acute injuries or right before strengthening exercise. If you use heat and find it increases pain or causes throbbing, switch to ice. 

Ice can be used for acute injuries, sharp pain, and muscles spasms. Ice should not be used in conditions with fibrosis, joint stiffness, in the later stages of tissue healing or right before strength training. 

When in doubt as to whether heat or ice is best for you, ask a physiotherapist! 

Important tips for safety! 

You should always do the following to prevent injury when applying heat or ice:

– Ensure that your sense of temperature is normal before applying the heat or ice

– Do not leave the heat or ice on one area for longer than 20 minutes

– Do not apply the heat or ice directly to your skin – wrap it in a towel (see pictures)

– Do not lie on the heat or ice – rest it on top of you

– Do not heat an area with known or suspected infection – it can promote the growth of bacteria 

– Always check the area for a thermal injury after the application of heat or ice


If you are experiencing pain and ice or heat is not helping, book an initial physiotherapy assessment at The Massage Clinic Health Centres today. 

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