Pain Management: Heat or Ice?

hot vs cold bonesBoth ice and heat are common treatments used to reduce pain due to injuries and soreness in the body. The decision to treat with heat or ice is generally based on two factors: 1) the length of time since injury or onset of pain and 2) the type of pain you’re experiencing.

Ice reduces swelling and spasm in muscle tissue–moderating the influx of blood to the affected area. Therefore, ice therapy is appropriate if:
-an injury is recent (from 0-72 hours)
-swelling and redness is present

Heat increases circulation. The application of heat, whether by a hot shower, a heat pack or a hot tub, has the ability to increase blood flow to the area experiencing pain. As a result, heat therapy is appropriate if:
-stiffness and loss of motion are present

In some cases, a combination of ice and heat therapies may be appropriate. For instance, if:
-an injury or onset of pain has been present longer than 72 hours
-the injury or pain is chronic and/or resistant to healing

If you are unsure of which therapy to use or have a combination of symptoms, ice is the safest choice.

Please note: heat is NOT used on an acute injury. While heat increases blood (circulation) to the area, it can also cause inflammation, potentially increasing pain. If the use of heat increases pain, stop using heat and begin using ice.