To ice or not to ice- That’s the question?

October 18, 2018

Do you ever wonder if you should be applying ice or heat to your injury?

It is a common question most patients have and we have come up with an easy way to cool this heated debate.

When making this decision it is important to understand the implications of getting it wrong. The major consequence of using hot when it should be cold and vice versa is it can greatly increase your recovery time and in some instances can contribute to further damage! Get it right and you will find you are back doing the things you love sooner and are greatly limiting the long term effects.

If you have ever felt confused by what you have been told then these next two tips will take the guess work out of the equation.

You may have heard that there is a big swing at the moment against the use of ice as it is believed that icing to reduce swelling stops the body from initiating its own healing mechanism and while this is true to an extent it is like saying that if you had a big pussy sore you would not take antibiotics because the pus is the bodies way of healing. Sometimes when the situation is bad enough the body needs help.


So that being said, Ice is commonly used in acute injuries (within 1-3 days of injury) to help reduce signs of inflammation. These signs include redness, heat, pain, swelling and loss of function.  Blood vessels in the body shrink when ice is applied, which in turn reduces swelling in the injured area. It also has the added benefit of being a  great numbing agent therefore limiting pain in the injured area. So you would use Ice when you have injured yourself to the extent that normal function is not present and reasonable pain is.

Ice is also sometimes used in chronic injuries (lasting more than 8 weeks) for example a repetitive sprained ankle that has been reinjured so as to become swollen and reasonably painful again.

So when do we apply heat?

Heat is usually applied for chronic injuries where there are no signs of inflammation or swelling.  Examples include, sore, fatigued, heavy muscles or joint pain. When a muscle stiffens up, it has a high risk of getting injured. Heat causes blood vessels to expand, hence loosening up muscle tissues in the body.

However, it is always important not to apply heat immediately after exercise as exercise alone has the capacity to open up blood vessels and improve blood flow. So in most instances we do not want to over do it. If you have pain immediately post exercise it is best to ice instead.

Below we have summarised this information for you in a quick reference table.

1.     Within 48 hours of injury1.     Not on acute injury
2.     Not more than 20 minutes every 2 hours2.     Moderate heat level, 20 minutes
3.     Repeat as desired3.     Don’t leave heat pad on injury


4.     Elevation with ice can help reduce swelling4.     Do not apply heat to an area of numbness or loss of sensation.

for more detailed information check out our video below.