Heat or Ice

This is an extremely common question we see in our clinics and it is an important one at that! Ice and heat, if used correctly, can substantially aid your recovery from various soft tissue injuries, by helping to reduce bleeding, inflammation, swelling, muscle spasm and pain following your injury. But be wary, whilst heat provides immediate comfort and relief, it can at times be causing more harm than good. Likewise, incorrect use of ice may also prolong your recovery. 

Ice Treatment

How is ice treatment beneficial?

Ice treatment helps to reduce blood flow to the affected area. This is beneficial in the inflammatory phase of an injury (the first 72 hours following injury) as it not only helps to reduce pain and muscle spasm but also to reduce the amount of inflammation and swelling that accumulates in the injured region.

When should I use ice?

Ice treatment should be used for 10 minutes every hour during the inflammatory phase of an injury for a minimum of 72 hours following injury AND until you have no pain at night or upon waking in the morning.

During this period, avoid heat treatment, alcohol and massage (to the injured area), all of which increase blood flow and subsequent inflammation.

How do I use ice?

Using crushed ice or a pre-prepared ice pack, cover the entire area of injury and elevate your limb above the level of your heart. For smaller areas an ice massage for 5 minutes each hour can also be effective. For the extremities; such as ankles, feet and hands you can submerge the injured part in a bucket of iced water for an even better all around coverage.

Heat Treatment

How is heat treatment beneficial?

Heat increases blood flow to the affected region. This is beneficial after the inflammatory phase of an injury, since more blood flow means more nutrients and oxygen are transported to damaged tissue, therefore speeding healing. Heat can also help to reduce pain and muscle spasm as well as reduce muscle tightness and joint stiffness.

When should I use heat?

After the acute inflammatory phase and if you are experiencing pain and tightness in your muscles.

How do I use heat?

There are many commercially available heat packs; from wheat bags to electronic infrared pads that can effectively heat the area of injury. All our physiotherapy staff would be more than happy to find the correct heat pack for you.


If you are ever unsure about whether to use ice or heat, you can always have a chat with our friendly physiotherapists at Active Lifestyle Physiotherapy.