Should I use Ice or Heat?

How many times have we asked ourselves this very question when having pain or experiencing an injury of some sort? As a general rule of thumb: ice is utilized for injuries that are acute (meaning up until 48-72 hours after the initial injury) due to the fact that ice decreases blood flow to the area and helps minimize swelling and inflammation during that stage. Heat should be utilized when the injury or condition is of a chronic nature and when you want to improve blood flow to the region and loosen or relax muscles. Below is a useful chart put out by Cleveland Clinic that lists what is better for a variety of common ailments.

You can apply ice and heat in lots of ways. Our experts generally recommend up to 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off: 

  • Ice packs: Frozen peas or corn, ice cubes in a baggie or frozen gel pack. You can ice beyond 48 hours, until swelling, tenderness or inflammation are gone.
  • Ice massage: Freeze water in a Dixie cup, peel back the top, and massage the tender area until it’s numb. (Best for targeted icing after injury or for areas too awkward for ice packs, like the elbow or heel).
  • Cold masks: Place a cold mask, available at drugstores, over your eyes or lay a towel soaked in cold water over your forehead and temples.
  • Moist heat: Enjoy a bath, shower, hot tub or whirlpool using warm, not hot, water (92-100°).
  • Heat wraps: Drape a heat wrap, available at drugstores, around your neck like a scarf (great for work or travel).
  • Heating pads: To avoid burns, remove heating pads if the area becomes uncomfortably warm.