Updated: Jan 22, 2020

Most of us have been told to apply ice or heat when we hurt ourselves. Have you ever thought to yourself which is right for my injury and the difference between the two? If you have you're in the right place.


Ice works best when applied to an acute or new injury. Remember acute injuries are short term injuries. Some acute injuries could be sprains, pain after exercise, or swelling. A good rule of thumb is any injury that causes tissue damage and inflammation around the injury site is when you need to ice it. Icing these types of injuries causes the blood vessels to constrict which reduces swelling. The quicker the ice is applied the faster recovery time. That doesn't mean keep ice on it all day long, over-icing is a problem as well. Try to keep ice sessions to 20 minutes at a time for 24-48 hrs, any more can irritate the skin.


Chronic pain and long-standing conditions call for heat therapy. Chronic pain is an indicator that the body has not fully healed from a possible recurring injury or condition. Some instances where you should apply heat are muscle pain, soreness, stiff joints, arthritis, and recurring injuries. A good general rule of thumb is that heat therapy should rarely be used after physical activity. So if you are sore and have muscle pain from working out, you know to ice it. Opposite of ice, heat allows the blood vessels to expand which lets your muscles relax. We often feel a soothing relaxing effect after applying heat because it also stimulates circulation and increases elasticity. Do not over heat and never sleep with a heating device one. 20 minutes is the golden number for both ice and heat.

If you're still unsure of whether you should be icing or heating your pain the easiest way to remember when to use heat/ice therapy is knowing the difference between an acute injury and a chronic condition.  Acute injury = ICE, chronic injury/condition = HEAT.

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