Should I apply Heat or Ice?

Generally, you will instinctively know which method will be more soothing. If the area feels hot and inflamed, then ice is more likely to help and if it feels tight and in spasm, it is more likely to respond to heat.

WHEN TO AVOID THE USE OF HEAT OR ICE:

  • Local infection
  • Open wounds
  • Local altered sensation
  • CAUTION - if you:
  • Are diabetic
  • Have a skin disorder
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Cancer

ICE

Benefits

When used for short periods it can relieve pain and reduce blood flow to an area to limit swelling.

When to use

  • Immediately after injury - there is some evidence to show it is most effective for the first 72 hours post injury.
  • For pain caused by a recent injury to a muscle or joint, where swelling and inflammation may also be present.

How to use

  • Place ice cubes with a splash of water or crushed ice into a plastic bag (with no holes), do not tie the bag too tight to allow it to mould around the area to be iced, but ensure all the air is removed before tying. Gel packs cooled in the freezer or frozen peas can also be used but may not cool the area as quickly or effectively.
  • Apply the ice through a damp tea towel or pillow case to allow effective cooling but prevent any ice burns.
  • Apply to the injured area for 5-15 minutes as comfortable short periods of icing will provide pain relief. The body's natural healing process requires cells to be carried to the area and the inflammation caused by an injury is part of this process. It is therefore important to avoid icing for more than 15 minutes.
  • Apply ice every 2 hours, no more.
  • Check your skin regularly for blistering or burning.
  • Remove if there is any severe discomfort or blistering.
  • Continue daily until pain, swelling and inflammation subside - this may take up to 6 weeks.
  • CAUTION - During sporting events - evidence shows that applying ice to injuries more frequently for less time (5 minutes) might be more beneficial and should not reduce sporting performance. This may also be more comfortable.
  • CAUTION - Heat may be more effective for acute neck/back pain, even in the early stages, to help relax any associated muscle spasm, unless there is direct trauma to the back or neck.

 

HEAT

Benefits

Can help relieve pain, ease stiff and achey joints, relax muscles and increase blood flow to an area.

When to use

  • Generally around 6 weeks after injury - when inflammation and swelling has subsided
  • For chronic pain/injury, e.g. Osteoarthritis, Low back pain
  • How to use

  • Place a heated wheat pack or wrap a hot water bottle in a towel and place over the injured area for up to 20 minutes.
  • You can also purchase heat pads from most Chemists which can be applied directly to your clothing or skin (there are two different types of pads - check the correct method of application before using). This can provide heat for several hours.
  • Check your skin regularly for excessive redness or burns - remove if the skin becomes irritated or very red or if there is any discomfort or burning.
  • Avoid lying/sleeping with either the heat or ice pack in situ - this can lead to burning and blistering of the skin.

PLEASE CHECK THE MANUFACTURERS INSTRUCTIONS OF ANY HEAT/ICE PACK PURCHASED BEFORE USING HEAT/FREEZE SPRAYS, GELS AND CREAMS

Whilst they can be used to relieve pain, the research shows that the temperature of the tissues under the skin where they are applied does not change much, therefore, may not be as effective as a conventional heat/ice pack.