Should I Use Heat Or Ice?

Heat or ice? Which is the correct one to use and for which injury? This is something that practitioners get asked all the time.

When To Use Ice :

  • Ice is best for acute injuries or pain and new injuries.
  • Best applied within the first 48 hours after sustaining injury.
  • Calms down damaged superficial tissues which are inflamed, hot or swollen.
  • Temporarily able to dull nerve sensitivity to the area, providing short term pain relief.
  • Ensure the ice pack is wrapped in a damp tea towel or cloth before applying to the skin.
  • Do not use ice for longer than 20 minutes 
  • Wait 40 minutes – 1 hour before reapplying. 

Muscle pain does not always mean an injury, but rather aggravation. Common chronic pain issues you may mistakenly use ice for are: back pain and neck pain. Chronic back and neck pain should be treated with heat instead.

When To Use Heat:

Heat can be applied to relax stiff muscles and joints. It is especially beneficial for soothing chronic pain, such as back and neck pain. 

  • Helps relieve stress and tension, which could be causing the stiffness and chronic pain.
  • Using heat increases blood flow, which can help heal damaged tissue and aid in the later stages of injury rehabilitation. 
  • Improving circulation can help alleviate stress and tension to the affected area.
  • Often effective within 15-20 minutes.
  • Moist heat is more effective than dry heat as it is able to penetrate the skin surface to the underlying muscle tissue. Best applications are either a microwaveable wheat bag or hot water bottle, ensure both are wrapped in cloth to protect the skin surface.

Some examples heat can be used for:

  • Chronic sprains and strains
  • Chronic tendon issues
  • Chronic back pain 

You should avoid using heat if there are any indications of swelling and inflammation at the site of injury. Applying heat has been known to worsen these conditions.

CaN I Use Both?

Alternating between applications of ice and heat is called contrasting therapy. It’s extremely stimulating and is mostly used to facilitate injury recovery. The best practice is to use:

  • 5 minutes of ice to start
  • 10 minutes of heat
  • 5 minutes of ice to finish


Heat creates blood flow to the area to promote healing and the ice application after will reduce the swelling and stiffness to the area. 

Applying both ice and heat have the potential to do some minor, temporary harm when used poorly. Heat can make inflammation significantly worse. Ice can aggravate symptoms of tightness and stiffness; it can also just make any pain worse when it’s unwanted. Please note that responses to heat and ice may differ between each individual.

If you are unsure which method is best for your issue then consider booking at appointment with a Myotherapist or Physiotherapist as they are able to assess your injury, provide treatment options and guide you in your healing process. Call 0398942463 to chat with one of our practitioners. 

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