Heat, Ice, Baby

When you have an injury or something hurts, do you use ice or heat? Should you use both?

Heat acts as a muscle relaxant and relieves stiff joints. Ice is used to dull pain, stop swelling and reduce bruising.

Here are some guidelines on when to use heat or ice, or when to use both.

When to Use Heat:

  • Injuries that you’ve had for longer than six weeks
  • Chronic arthritis of the joints (shoulder, elbow, fingers, knee) from deteriorated cartilage
  • Long-term tendon stiffness
  • New back sprains caused by muscle spasms

When to Use Ice:

You should never apply ice directly to your body. Medical ice packs are recommended when using ice to help ease certain ailments. Carefully read and follow instructions on the package.

  • New injuries or injuries you’ve had for less than six weeks
  • Immediate treatment for sprains, strains, bruises and soft tissue injuries
  • Ice can ease flare ups and can dull pain from gout of the wrist, knee, ankle, big toe and instep
  • Ice should be applied within five to 10 minutes of injury, and for 20 minutes on and then 20 minutes off. This can be repeated every two to three hours while you are awake for the next 24 to 48 hours.
  • To manage and numb pain in the short term

When to Use Both:

  • Ice can numb throbbing headache pain and moist heat can ease neck spasms which contribute to a headache.
  • Ice can reduce the inflammation, redness and pain of pulled muscles or injured tendons in the back, thigh and calf. Heat can alleviate the tightness after swelling goes down.
  • Ice can reduce the inflammation and lessen the pain of stretched or torn ligaments in joints such as the elbow, knee, ankle and foot. Heat can alleviate the tightness after swelling goes down.

There are many different types of ailments that may require ice, heat or a combination. You should consult with your physician about which course of treatment is best for you.