Hot or Cold? That is the Question.

One question that we are asked more often than any other is, “Should I use heat or ice on my injury?”  Both are beneficial when applied appropriately.


Ice is recommended within the first 24-36 hrs.of a strain, sprain or muscle injury. Because ice constricts capillaries and decreases blood flow, it is used to reduce pain, swelling, and the inflammatory process.

As long as the affected area is red, warm, swollen, or painful, you will want to continue to use ice. Apply cold 15 and 20 minutes.  The skin should regained normal temperature and color before reapplying.  

You can use commercial cold packs, or make your own using 4 parts water and 1 part rubbing alcohol in an ziplock bag and freeze until it is a cold slush. Apply a damp towel between the cold pack and your skin for even cooling.  Always check the color of the skin after you are finished.


Heat is used for aches, pains and generalized stiffness of joints and muscles. Heat increases circulation and reduces muscle spasms.

As with cold, apply heat in 15 to 20 minute intervals. The affected area should be slightly reddened or pink after the application of heat. Be sure the skin has regained normal temperature and color before reapplying.

With heat, you must be careful that the heat element, (heating pad, microwaveable pack) is not too hot, which can cause burns to the skin.

People with diabetes or poor circulation, where loss of sensation in an extremity is diminished, should consult their physician before applying any type of heat therapy.

In conclusion:

  • When the area being treated is warm, swollen, or reddened use ice to cool it down.

  • When the part being treated is stiff or achy, use heat to loosen it up.

If you have a question about whether to apply ice or heat, feel free to leave a message in the comments section below.