When to use ice and heat

We often get these questions in the office, “Should I use: ice, heat, both, neither” or “when do I use ice and heat”. All are very good questions and it can be confusing at times.

Let’s first discuss what each of them do.

Ice calms down the damaged tissue and slows down the blood flow to an injury. This will reduce swelling, inflammation, and controls the nerve irritation.

Heat promotes muscles to relax and can increase the range of motion. It does this by opening up the blood vessels to increase blood flow, which relaxes the muscles and helps alleviate the pain.

When to use ice and heat:

Ice
-Utilized right after an injury or activity that aggravates a chronic condition.
-After surgery to help reduce pain and swelling
-Headaches (migraine)
-Hives or allergies

Heat
-Help heal chronic injuries
-Reduce spasm or muscle guarding
-Increase blood flow and range of motion

When NOT to use ice and heat:

Ice

-hypersensitive to cold
-Vascular diseases (Raynaud’s)
-High blood pressure
-Tension headache (spasm)

Heat
-Diabetes Mellitus
-Encapsulated swellings
-Active Tuberculosis
-Edema
-Abdomen or low back during pregnancy (use TENS unit)
-Acute conditions (injury that happen less than 72hrs)

How to use them:

Ice
-Wrap damp cloth around ice to protect skin and increase the conduction of cold.
-Ice packs or bags of ice because they contour the body. Please note that bags of ice will melt and decrease in temperature during treatment.
-Keep ice on for no longer than 20 minutes. Allow for at least 1 hr for skin to return to normal temperature. Repeat this process as needed.

Heat
-For hot packs- use moist towels to protect skin.
-You should only feel a mild to moderate type of heat.
-There are different types of heat. Please see doctor/therapist on how long the heat should be on.
-Check the area after 5 minutes of heat to ensure skin is in good condition.

***Remember to always discuss this with your doctor before using ice or heat to make sure it is the right option for you.