Heat or ice?

Jun 22, 2018

Deep heat, ice packs, hot water bottles, freeze spray, heat pads …we’ve all heard of these different types of heat/cold therapy to help with pain, but sometimes it gets confusing as to which to use and when.

As a general rule of thumb, if you have had a new injury and there is swelling…use ice.  This will prevent further inflammation as well as providing pain relief.  When using ice, remember not to put it directly on your skin, ensure you wrap those frozen peas (other vegetables are available) in a tea towel to protect your skin. Also, avoid using it for too long.  10 minutes at a time, ensuring you give yourself at least an hour break before using it again.

If you have ongoing stiff, tight muscles causing you pain, i.e. you get a sore neck after a long day sitting at a desk, or aching, arthritic, stiff joints, you will often get greater benefit from heat.  Heat helps to relax your muscles and may make stretching more comfortable. Imagine walking out of the house on a snowy January morning without a coat…you will immediately feel your shoulder muscles tense up as you start to shiver!  On the flip side, think of how relaxed you feel when sinking into a hot bath – the same principle applies to ice and heat!

If you have sore back/area which has been hurting for a while, with no recent swelling/injury or you don’t feel like your muscles are particularly tense or spasming, then there is not necessarily a right or wrong one to use – whichever you feel gives you more relief.


  • Stiff joints
  • Tense muscles
  • Ongoing pain
  • If it feels nice
  • Not too hot – to avoid burns


  • Recent injuries (within 72 hours)
  • Swelling
  • If it feels nice
  • Not directly on skin
  • Keep to 10 minutes
  • Wait an hour before reapplying

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