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Heat or ICE?

The question we get asked so frequently is ‘Do I apply ICE or Heat to my injury?’ Well here’s a little bit more information to help you decide ….


Ice is usually used for the more acute injuries, such as Sprained ligaments, muscles tears or bruises. Especially if the affected area is beginning to swell. Ice is excellent at reducing swelling as it vaso-constricts (narrows) the blood vessels, limiting the internal bleeding / inflammation occurring at the injury site. It is best to apply Ice as soon as possible to limit the swelling in the early stages of injury, ideally within the first 48 hours post injury.

Ice may also be used for more chronic conditions such as repetitive strain injuries. In these circumstances it acts as a pain relieving method and to help control inflammation. It should be used after activity and not directly before.

Ice should be applied for no more than 10-12 minutes every 2 hours. If you apply Ice for too long then the brain over-rides the body’s mechanism and begins to vasodilate (open) the blood vessels, undoing all the work the previous 10-12 mins of icing has done.


Heat is generally used to loosen tight structures (Aching or tight joints and muscles) that are not currently suffering from inflammation or swelling. Heat is ideal for patients suffering with chronic pain (longer than 3 months) and works excellently at loosening joints and muscles prior to exercise as it increases the elasticity of connective tissues and increase blood flow to the area.

It is important not to use heat post exercise or within the first 48 hours of an injury. Within the first 48 hours of an injury, the body is undergoing an inflammatory response to help the healing process. Applying heat too early may increase blood flow and affect this early healing process.

When applying heat, ensure that the heating aspect is not placed directly onto the skin otherwise you are at risk of burning yourself. Instead wrap the heat pack / water bottle in a towel before placing on the affected area. Only use the heat pack for 10-15 minutes, checking regularly that no damage is being done to the skin. Ensure that heat is never placed on an area that has a loss of sensation or numbness and that you never fall asleep whilst applying heat.

If you have sustained an acute injury or want further advice regarding treatment call us on 01572 720 491.

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