When To Use Ice And Heat Therapy?

Ice or heat for injury - Dr Rik Kundra

Injuries are common in our day-to-day life, but what gets us thinking is – What to use? Ice or heat for our injury recovery?! Most of us do not have the right knowledge and end up treating the injury with wild guesses.

The occasional bump, bruise, sprain, or pain is unavoidable on the field or at home. These injuries can also occur suddenly or gradually as a result of overuse and wear and tear. But less severe aches and pains may not need professional medical attention. In fact, ice therapy, heat therapy, or a mix of the two can effectively heal many common injuries.

However, understanding when to use ice or heat for injury and which to use first can be difficult.

In this article, we’ll go through some key points regarding heat or ice therapy for muscular tension.

Ice Therapy


Forms of ice therapy


  • Ice packs
  • Ice baths/whirlpools
  • Ice massage


How does ice therapy work?


Cold therapy, or Cryotherapy, is an excellent method for relieving hot, red, inflamed, or swollen surface tissue. Although the inflammatory process is natural, it can be uncomfortable. Moreover, colder temperatures can assist to dull pain and minimise swelling by limiting blood flow to a specific area.


When should you use ice therapy?


Use cold therapy within 72 hours of any new injury if a sprain or strain is suspected.

Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) is the gold standard for such injuries. While compression is beneficial, ice provides the maximum level of pain relief. Remember that ice should only be administered for 15 minutes at a time. The tissue should be allowed to return to normal temperature before reapplying. 10 minutes is sufficient for parts that cool fast, such as hands, wrists, or elbows.


Avoid ice on:


  • People with sensory disorder
  • Stiff muscles or joints


Pattern to be followed for ice usage


  • Minimum of 2 to 3 times per day; maximum once every hour.
  • Ice may be effective in treatment if there is pain, swelling, inflammation, or spasm. Switching to heat or alternate between ice and heat after 48 hours is unnecessary.


Also Read: Got A Sports Injury? Here Are 7 Best Foods For Injury Recovery

Benefits of ice therapy


  • Reduces circulation, metabolic activity, and inflammation, and numbs the skin.
  • Ice reduces pain, edoema, inflammation, and muscle spasm/cramping. Best utilised after exercise or any painful activity.


Injuries for which ice can be specifically used


  • Ankle sprains
  • Muscle strains
  • Red, hot or swollen injuries
  • Acute pain
  • Severe shin splints


Heat Therapy


How does heat therapy work?


Heat therapy improves blood flow and circulation to the injured area that is being treated. An ascended temperature level in the afflicted area promotes muscle flexibility and relieves pain. As a result, heat therapy aids in the healing of injured tissue and the relaxation of muscles.


Forms of heat therapy


  • Dry Heat Therapy
  • Moist Heat Therapy


When should you use heat therapy?


Heat can help with chronic pain, stress, and sore muscles. It alleviates symptoms, including stiffness and soreness. Chronic pain, particularly back pain, is frequently associated with tension and stress. Heat can help to calm an overactive nervous system. Heat therapy, in general:

  • Should be used for muscular pain when there is no evidence of a muscle tear.
  • Is appropriate for a muscular spasm
  • Good for non-inflammatory muscular discomfort, it can be used often and for lengthy periods of time.


Avoid heat on:


  • Acute injuries
  • Face, neck, or groin area
  • Aged people


Benefits of heat therapy


  • Improves circulation
  • Enhances metabolic activity
  • Can cause more inflammation
  • Pain relief
  • Muscles are soothed and relaxed.


Injuries for which heat can be specifically used 


  • Stiff joints
  • Muscle pain
  • Chronic pain


Also Read: 7 Safety Tips For Basketball Injury Prevention


Is the injury not getting any better? Seek professional help right away


Knowing when to apply heat or ice on a strained muscle will improve therapy effectiveness and speed up healing. If either treatment does not respond or aggravates the pain, contact our orthopaedic expert Dr Rik Kundra.

With more than 20 years of experience, he specializes in offering the latest conservative care therapies and the most recent regenerative injections, as well as minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery. Whether you have a nagging sports injury or a chronic condition, Dr Rik designs a personalised treatment plan based on your condition. He also elaborately tells you the kind of care you need to take at home.

So, book an appointment for a pain-free and active lifestyle!


All content and media on this page are created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Meet Dr. Rik personally for appropriate medical diagnosis and advice.