Ice or Heat: What’s Best for These Five Common Injuries?

Ice or Heat: What’s Best for These Five Common Injuries? Regardless of your health status, diet, or activity level, you will experience pain and injury at some point. Having treated your own minor injuries, you understand that cold eases some, while heat makes others better. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget the proper treatment in an emergency, but remembering a few guidelines can make that decision easier.

Ice or Heat: What’s Best for These Five Common Injuries?

Heat vs. Ice

Heat, also known as thermotherapy, is often used for chronic, recurring pain. It should be utilized 24 to 48 hours after an injury occurs. Warming injured tissues increases blood flow, improves flexibility, and soothes.

Also known as cryotherapy, cold is generally used for new injuries, less than 48 hours old, and where inflammation causes pain. Chilling narrows blood vessels, and slows bleeding, so it is also useful for controlling swelling. Physical therapists use moist heater to warm your back and neck before applying traction.

Treating Your Injuries

Since the distinctions between the two temperature extremes and their effects are general, most people need to try both thermotherapy and cryotherapy to treat minor injuries like strains and sprains. Use ice to stop, then resolve, swelling.To combat bruising, chill the area to constrict blood vessels, easing discoloration and limiting the bruise’s size. For back and neck injuries you should chill affected areas for the first few hours after an injury. Cold can ease swelling and decompress nerves, but use heat, after the initial icing, to ease any muscle spasms. Icing joints, after exercising or participating in sports, eases inflammation and limits damage to surrounding tissues. After icing, use heat to soothe muscles, increase circulation, and remove excess lactic acid.Since most muscle tears happen during sports activities, they are congested with blood when the tear occurs. Ice the injured muscle, first and apply heat 24 to 48 hours after the injury occurs.


Using cryotherapy for low back pain and chronic neck pain with muscle spasms can worsen pain for many. Pain emanating from a disc or nerves, is not caused by inflammation, but compression. Chilling these areas can increase spasms and increase compression as the muscles tighten against the cold.

If you have muscle spasms and a new injury, you might use cold for 10 minutes, then warmth for your muscle spasms. You can use systemic heat for spasms, then local ice, for swelling. If you remember that ice treats inflammation, and heat increases circulation, you will always remember which temperature to use, hot or cold.



Ice or Heat: What’s Best for These Five Common Injuries?


Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information on treating injuries visit an Alberta Back and Neck Rehab and Sports Injury Clinic or contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.”