When to Use Ice vs. Heat?

One of the most common questions we receive from patients is whether they should be using ice or heat. Cold therapy and heat therapy do have different effects and should be used for different injuries and conditions.

Cold Therapy:

  • Used for bruises, sprains, inflamed joints, or pain and swelling from injury
  • Constricts blood vessels which slows circulation and decreases swelling
  • Dulls pain by reducing sensitivity of nerve endings
  • Apply no longer than 20 minutes at a time
  • Use a towel or pillow case to buffer between skin and cold pack
  • Don’t use if you have a condition that affects circulation!

Heat Therapy:

  • Used for chronic pain, morning stiffness, or muscle soreness and spasms
  • Widens blood vessels which delivers nutrients faster to assist in the healing of joints and muscles
  • Relaxes tight muscles
  • Apply heat no longer than 20 minutes at a time
  • Use 20 minutes before working out
  • Using heat from a shower or bath will allow for better penetration

Please note this a quick reference guide; if you have specific questions or concerns, please talk to your physical therapist.