Heat or ice? Choosing the best treatment for your injury

Whether you are dealing with a new injury or a chronic pain that has plagued you for awhile, it can be confusing to know how to alleviate the pain. Follow this easy to understand chart to determine if you should be applying heat or ice to your problem spot.

Ice or heat infographic
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Some like it hot, some like it cold.
Think about your injury or pain. Is it a:

  • New injury
  • Newly aggravated muscle or tendon strain
  • Ligament sprain
  • Soft tissue or bone bruise

Use an ice pack!
Ice will decrease swelling and numb the painful tissue.

When icing, be careful if you use a gel or chemical pack. Some can be colder than freezing point and cause frostbite exposure.

  • Chronic injury, sprain or strain
  • Arthritis pain
  • Muscle spasm or tightness
  • Trigger point

Treat with heat!
Using a hot pad or hot pack will increase blood flow to relax muscles and soothe chronic pain.

Be careful to not burn yourself if you are using a heating blanket and fall asleep. Ask someone to turn off the blanket for you or set an alarm if you think you will fall asleep.

Whether you are using hot or cold treatment, use for 20 minutes and then take 20 minute break.

If you have poor skin sensation, be careful with the prolonged use of ice or heat.


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Runners often tell themselves "I can push through this" at the first sign of pain. However, it's important to know your body's warning signs so you can address aches early and avoid common running injuries. Listen as RunSMART Physical Therapist, Shannon Barie, shares her knowledge about how to identify aches that may lead to injury and how to prevent common running injuries.

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