When to Use Ice or Heat For Pain

When your muscles are screaming for relief, it can be difficult to decide between using heat or ice to treat the pain.

We’re making it real simple for you to remember so that you’ll know which to use right away!

When to use ICE:

Rule of thumb – ice is for injuries.

  • Immediately after an injury
    Ice slows down the blood flow which controls pain, reduces bruising, and relieves inflammation.
  • Strained, pulled, or torn muscles
    Ice relieves inflammation and controls the pain by slowing down the blood flow to the injured muscle.
  • Headaches or migraines
    Ice will numb the throbbing pain. Ice cubes in a food storage bag or a frozen bag of peas work just as well as store-bought ice packs (and you probably already have these in your freezer!).
  • Cuts or Bruises
    Ice will slow down the blood flow and help numb the pain. Elevate the bruised area while sitting or lying down as you apply ice therapy to it.

Ice should not be applied longer than 20 minutes at a time to avoid damage to your skin. Once your pain is numb, remove the ice pack. Ice should never be applied directly to the skin as well (always use a thin cloth buffer).

Check your skin every 5 minutes for redness to avoid freezer burn (your skin will turn red as if it were burned by heat).

When to use HEAT:

Rule of thumb – heat is for muscles and joints.

  • Arthritis
    Heat soothes stiff joints and helps increase blood circulation which delivers nutrients quickly. Blood vessels will dilate which increases the flow of oxygen to the damaged joints. (If the joints are bruised or swollen, use ice instead.)
  • Shoulder pain
    If the shoulder muscles aren’t inflamed, heat therapy can be effective for treating the pain. Just injured your shoulder? Ice it first. Remember, heat should only be applied to non-inflamed muscles since blood circulation will increase.
  • Knee Pain
    Applying heat on a knee injury can relax the muscles and increase the lubrication around the joints. Gentle exercises while applying heat to the knee will help strengthen and restore flexibility.
  • Non-Inflamed Muscles
    Heat is generally safe to use on muscles or joints after an injury is about 2 or 3 days old since many fresh injuries involve swelling, tears, and bruises.

Generally, the longer heat is applied, the better; however, it also depends on the magnitude of the injury.

Fifteen to 20 minutes of heat therapy should suffice for minor muscle tension, while 30 minutes would be more beneficial for more intense muscle injuries.

Just like ice, heat should never be applied directly to the skin (always use a cloth buffer).

Have you used ice or heat therapy? Share your experience with us in the comments section!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *