The Pain Debate: Ice vs. Heat

The Pain Debate: Ice vs. HeatIt’s been a crazy day! Just as you check one thing off the to-do list, it seems like two more things get added. You’ve been running around trying to get everything done, but as luck would have it, you twisted your ankle and now you’re in some pain and even see a little swelling. You know it’s nothing to be concerned about, but you also know that you need to do something to make the swelling go down and the pain go away. You remember you have an ice pack and heating pad at home, but…which one should you use?

This is where the great debate of ice vs. heat comes into play. Both of them will help reduce pain, but there are certain types of injuries for which each should be used.

Ice

Ice should be used for acute pain or a new injury that is causing swelling/inflammation. It will help numb pain and reduce inflammation. Note:Do not use ice for muscle tension and spasms, as it can make each of these worse.

Heat

Heat should be used for chronic pain or an injury that is older than a day. It will help relax muscles and soothe stiff joints. Note: Do not use heat for acute injuries because it can increase inflammation and even delay healing.

But what about a freshly injured muscle?

If ice is for a new injury and heat is to relax muscles, what happens when you injure a muscle? If it really is a muscle injury (severe, sudden muscle pain after a trauma) this is where it gets a little tricky and you’ll end up using a combination of the two. Start with ice for the first few days to help decrease the inflammation and then switch to heat to help relieve the soreness.


If you’re still experiencing muscle soreness or pain after a few days, we recommend visiting a physician or scheduling a complimentary injury screening.

Looking for more information about injuries? Read our blog post about dealing with acute and chronic injuries.

By Cori Cameron for ATI Physical Therapy