The debate: ICE vs. HEAT

The debate: ICE vs HEAT

Unfortunately, most of us have dealt with some aches and pains in our life. Maybe you have had some nagging lower back pain when you sit. Or you sprained your ankle jogging. Maybe you had surgery on your knee after having pain for a long time. Regardless of your injury timeline or location you might be wondering the age old question: What is better for my injury? Ice or heat!? The truth is – it depends!


Ice ice baby

If you have a new injury with inflammation and swelling at a joint, ice can be your friend. Ice helps to decrease pain by creating an analgesic effect and numbing the area and keeps the joint from becoming stiffer in the initial phase of healing. Using ice for the first 72 hours after injury can provide much relief. However, recent research shows that using ice on acute muscle injuries can delay healing. Ice on a new muscle injury can stop our body’s natural inflammatory response to heal tissues that is important in the recovery timeline (Kawashima, 2021). 


Feel the heat

Heat helps when an injury has become chronic or is in the recovery phase. Heat helps to decrease muscle tension/tightness and decrease joint stiffness. You want to avoid heat on a fresh injury as it can increase pain and lead to increased irritation on newly damaged tissue. 


Safety first

With either heat or ice, it is important to remember that moderation is key. Avoid either for a period greater than 15 – 20 minutes. Also, avoid direct contact by using a barrier between the skin and ice or heat to avoid skin damage. While using ice or heat can be mildly uncomfortable, neither treatment should be painful. 


Bottom line?

Ice and heat alone cannot heal tissue damage. While ice and heat can both be excellent tools for pain management, more complex or persistent injuries often require medical attention. At Elite Physical Therapy, we take a conservative approach to treatment and make a plan with you towards your recovery. If you have further questions, feel free to contact us or schedule a free screen to learn about next steps!

Kawashima, M., Kawanishi, N., Tominaga, T., Suzuki, K., Miyazaki, A., Nagata, I., … & Arakawa, T. (2021). Icing after eccentric contraction-induced muscle damage perturbs the disappearance of necrotic muscle fibers and phenotypic dynamics of macrophages in mice. Journal of Applied Physiology, 130(5), 1410-1420.