Hot vs. Cold

Whether or not you should apply heat or ice to your pain can be a confusing proposition: the treatments are opposites but are used to the same effect. If you have ever been unsure if your situation required heat or ice then read on!

heat_icon Heat

What it does

Heat promotes muscle relaxation and can increase range of motion. It opens blood vessels to increase blood flow, relaxes muscles and helps alleviate pain.

When to use it

Heat is a great way to help loosen up tight joints and tight muscles. It is also a good method of pain relief for tension headaches and other chronic conditions. Always wait 48-72 hours before considering heat therapy.

Ice icon Ice

What it does

Ice calms down damaged tissue and slows down the blood flow to an injury to reduce swelling, inflammation, and controls the pain.

When to use it

Ice should be used right after an injury or activity that aggrevates a chronic condition. Ice is good for migraine headaches, bumps, sprains and strains, slips and falls, or lifting. Cold therapy is also helpful in treating some overuse injuries or chronic pain in athletes.

Rule of thumb: Heat is for muscles. Ice is for injuries.

Helpful tips

  • Treat for no longer than 20 minutes at a time
  • During treatment check skin every 5 minutes to make sure there is no damage such as burn or freezer burn (skin would become reddened or blistered)
  • Do not apply directly to skin, use a thin towel
  • Do not lie on a ice or hot pack to avoid falling asleep and potentially harming yourself
  • Wait 1 hour in between treatments
  • Do not use heat if you have swelling, bruising, or no feeling in that affected part of your body
  • Do not use heat if you have poor circulation, such as if you have diabetes
  • When in doubt, use ICE

Here is a handy infographic you can save or print off to help you remember.