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We have had that question asked frequently here in the office over the past few weeks and wanted to walk you through the difference of heat vs ice and when to use it properly if you have an injury. At times we try to stick out and move on about our day, but if you pinch that muscle or have that targeted pain, that only means that it will take longer to recover! It is important for us to stop and listen to our body when it needs us! 

When to Use: Ice

That painful but refreshing relief that ice relieves from our tissues and muscles is a love/hate relationship. When you are icing an injury, you are controlling the inflammation of the tissue in order to reduce damage and keep your pain level in check right away. It is important to ice sooner rather than later, at least try to get to it within 24 hours of injury time. I recommend for more of an acute pain such as a bone fracture, muscle sprain, or a mild back pain to ice 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. When you are icing, in order to stay more comfortable and to get you through the cold and burning stage, protect the skin upon application do this until you reach the numbness stage. This is the stage where reduced nerve conduction happens.

When you ice, you get different localized and reflex effects. It will reduce muscle spasms and the cell metabolism, as well as decrease the capillary blood pressure. This will allow the muscle tone to increase slightly overtime with treatment. Overall you will notice your muscles will experience less fatigue, while your respiratory rate, heart rate and leukocytosis will increase.

When to Use: Heat

It is common that we naturally want to jump in and out a heating pad when we injure ourselves. It is so soothing and calming… it makes sense that you would want to do that… but you actually could be doing yourself harm in the long run! When the body experiences a traumatic injury, the body naturally tries to protect itself by creating inflammation to help it heal. The injury then becomes warm due to the inflammation, so applying extra heat is not a good idea and will then increase inflammation.

If you feel stiff, I highly recommend using heat. As an example: when you want to stretch a muscle, but stretching doesn’t help, that is when you want to apply some heat. When heat is applied, it relaxes the tissue and brings blood to the area to help combat the feeling of tightness and stiffness. If you have an option on what type of heat to use, moist heat is going to be the best.

Can I use both?

The answer is yes but at the right time. I recommend for you to alternate ice and heat until 48 hours after injury, and inflammation is decreased. By alternating the ice and heat, you are creating a pumping effect that does reduce swelling and is best known as contrast therapy. This allows your tissues to adapt and give them a little “workout” by stimulating metabolic and circulatory activity while allowing your body to rest.

If you still have questions please do not hesitate to reach out to the office, on Facebook, Instagram or even sending us an email at If there is a question you have always wondered about, or some topic that just always confuses or interests you, LET US KNOW! We are here to help, and love to help teach you more about anything help related, even if it is lending a helpful hint or recommendation.