Should I use ice or heat?? When I was a kid, I remember falling off my bike and scraping my knee (not just once). After cringing through the clean-up process and proudly donning a My Little Pony Band-Aid, my mom had me put some ice on it. But how much does icing actually help our injuries, and when is heat more appropriate?

Read on to find out:

  1. What does ice do and when should I use it?
  2. What does heat do and when should I use it?
  3. Will ice or heat work better for me?

What does ice do? 

Ice helps relieve pain coming from inflamed or irritated tissues. Ice is most effective right after the initial inflammation or injury occurs, and provides relief by dulling pain. It may also help reduce swelling, although there’s not much evidence for that at this point. Basically, the jury is still out on whether or not ice can impact healing and recovery, but we do know that it’s one heck of a pain-reducer – and a cheap, safe one at that. 

When should I use ice and when should I avoid it?

Pull out the ice bag for fresh injuries – an ankle sprain or a jammed knuckle, for example. The ice won’t be fixing anything, but it will decrease pain associated with swelling and inflammation. 

You may want to re-think using ice for muscle soreness or spasms, especially if it makes you feel more stiff and tense. Oftentimes, people I see with low back pain are aggravated by ice because their discomfort is coming from a muscular source. 

What does heat do?

Heat can be really helpful in decreasing pain that is more persistent or chronic in nature. It tends to be most beneficial when your pain is more dull and associated with stiffness and tension. The relaxing effects of heat can decrease muscle tension and make you feel more comfortable. 

When should I use heat and when should I avoid it? 

As noted, muscular soreness tends to respond well to heat – like that soreness you feel after working out for the first time in months. In addition, stiff joints usually like heat because it increases blood flow and muscle elasticity. We often see that low back pain responds well to heat in the short-term. (Head over to our other post to get further relief from back pain!)

Ditch the heat if you have a ton of warmth and swelling (like a fresh ankle sprain), or if something is infected. Heat can make those things worse – ice is the preferred modality in these cases.

Which one is better – ice or heat? 

Trick question – there’s no right answer! Ultimately, it’s unlikely that using either ice or heat will be the golden ticket in healing your injury. It’s also unlikely, however, that using either one in moderation will hurt you. So generally speaking, use ice for fresh injuries that are swollen and warm, and use heat for more persistent aches and pains. For everything else, use what feels best for you! 

If you’ve been struggling with an injury that’s keeping you from the things you love, we’d love to help. Contact us today to find out how we can assist in getting you back to the things you love!