Should I use ice or heat?

Ice and heat have long been used to alleviate soreness and pain. One of the most common things people reach for when injured or in pain is an ice pack or a heat pack.  While both can be beneficial, if used in the wrong instance, they can actually do more harm than good thus increasing recovery times. 

Acute injuries
An acute injury is a problem that occurs following a single trauma or event. Immediately following an acute injury, ice should be used every 15–20 minutes every hour.  While 72 hours is usually the appropriate timeframe, this can vary according the depth and nature of the injury.  A general guideline is to continue icing until all swelling has resolved and you are feeling much better.  In addition to using ice, aim to rest from activities that increase pain and apply compression to the injured part if possible. 

During the acute phase, is it important to never use heat as this will only increase inflammation and may actually exacerbate bleeding and bruising.

Chronic or longstanding pain
Heat treatment is commonly used for muscular stiffness or aches.  It can also be ideal for stress relief.  The aim of heat treatment is to relax and loosen off the muscles, but also to encourage an increase in blood flow which stimulates nutrients and oxygen to aid in faster healing.  Heat treatments should not be applied whilst resting or sleeping as this may increase the likelihood of burns. 

General Guidelines

  • ice and heat can both cause burns.  Never apply directly to the skin, ensure that you always cover ice or heat packs adequately
  • if in doubt, use ice
  • ice and heat only assist with the healing process so it is important so seek ongoing medical advice or physiotherapy treatment.


Jason Lee APAM
B. Physiotherapy
Malvern East Physiotherapy 

Jason is happy to answer any questions you may have, simply send an email to [email protected]

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