Ice vs. Heat

To ice or to heat, that is the question.

Originally posted on October 1, 2015

Whether to heat or ice greatly depends on whether you are experiencing pain or stiffness and also if it is a new or chronic injury.

Ice is great for new injuries, inflammation, and swelling as the tissue is usually strained and damaged. Inflammation is good as the body’s natural response to promote healing by applying cold to an injury it can reduce excessive swelling and numb acute pain.

Heat is great for prolonged (or chronic) injuries as it increases blood flow to relieve stiffness, relaxes muscles and aching joints, opens up blood vessels, improves flexibility of tendons and ligaments and can help to reduce muscle spasm. It is best to heat after inflammation has resolved.

 General Guidelines for Ice and Heat

Guidelines for Applying Ice

What to Use for Ice

You can buy a variety of different ice, gel, and other over the counter products for icing, however, using a plastic zip bag with ice and some water is a good inexpensive alternative.

Guidelines for Heat

What to Use for Heat

Electric heating pads, reusable gel packs, steamed towels, hot tubs, baths, and showers are great sources of gentle heating. The goal of heat therapy is to keep your heating pad warm enough to relax tight muscles, but not hot enough to burn the skin.


Your body’s comfort and health can affect many aspects of your life. It is very important to address new injuries and chronic issues including pain as soon as possible. Ask your healthcare professional whether ice or heat is the best option for your condition even after your rehabilitation is complete.



Godsey, MSN, APRN, MSHE, FNP-BC, C. (Ed.). (n.d.). When to Use Hot and Cold Therapy. Retrieved August 31, 2015.

Written by Lauren Masi, PT, MPT, OCS, ATC
Clinical Services Coordinator
and Jenni Perez, B.A. Communications
Edited and Arranged by Julia Slater, B.A.
Community Outreach Coordinator


This article is intended as general health information and is not intended to provide individual specific medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or any other individual. Please consult your doctor or a medical professional before starting or changing a fitness or nutrition program.

Lauren Masi, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC

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