Should I Ice or Heat my Injury for Relief?


blue and red bag - ice and heat

You’re injured.  Depending on your temperament, the first thing you probably did following the incident that caused the injury is to reach for one of either a hot or cold pack.

Both have a role to play in injuries.  But both serve different purposes.  If you’re asking, “Should I ice or heat my injury for relief?”, you’re confused.  But don’t worry.  A lot of people are.

Let’s demystify the question in this post, which reveals what these two types of topical pain relief strategies do.

Ice, Ice Baby

Ice is what you use when your injury causes swelling.  Ice reduces swelling and tissue bleed, as well as pain.

Chronic injuries can also be treated with ice, but only after you participate in physical activity.  This reduces any swelling you may encounter due to an overuse issue.  But whatever you do, don’t treat the injury with ice prior to your activity.

Place ice in a plastic bag and wrap the bag with a towel.  Putting ice directly on the skin for prolonged periods can result in tissue injury.

People with heart problems should never ice the left shoulder (directly above the heart).  Ice packs also aren’t appropriate for use on the neck.  Never leave an ice pack on for longer than 30 minutes and keep it moving over the affected area for the duration to avoid ice burns.

Turn Up the Heat

Chronic (or overuse) injuries should be treated with heat.  Heat serves to relax tissue and to increase blood flow.  Use heat on a chronic injury before engaging in your planned physical activity.

Heat should never be put on an injury you’ve just sustained.  That’s especially true in the case of swelling, as heat increases blood flow.  Your injured tissue is already struggling with bleeding and heat will only exacerbate that effect.

Use a heating pad or a towel which has been wetted and then heated.  Use the heat sparingly and never, ever use heat when you’re sleeping.  You may wake up with burns.

Using heat or ice on skin which is broken or otherwise damaged can cause further damage.  The same is true if you have an infection, or if you suffer from diabetes.

If you’re unsure about using ice and heat to treat an injury, consult a medical professional.

I hope this brief primer on applying ice and heat to injuries has cleared up any confusion.  If you’re still confused, or if the pain from your injury is still making life less than pleasant, then I suggest you come to see me and the team at Back & Body Medical in Manhattan.

Back & Body Medical

Back & Body is an award-winning clinic, practicing multi-disciplinarian pain relief for all kinds of people.  Our clinicians are trained in chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy and sports medicine.  We’ll often work as a team to personalize care to patient need, drawing on our respective disciplines to find the right response.

If you’ve suffered an injury you need support healing, contact us.  Let our team be yours.








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