Should you use ice or heat on an injury?

One of the most common questions we get asked is whether ice or heat is best for pain and injuries.

Well, it depends. Both can be beneficial at different times.

Ice packs should be used on acute injuries, for example an ankle sprain or a muscle strain (especially in the first 48 hours).

Make sure you wrap the cold pack in a towel to avoid a freeze burn and do not apply it for longer than 20 minutes at a time. You can ice an injury several times a day, but you should allow skin temperature to return to normal between each application.

The ice pack helps to control/reduce the swelling, therefore will help to control pain.

Heat packs are mostly commonly used on injuries you have had for a while, for example aching in the upper shoulders from deskwork or longstanding low back pain. Heat helps stimulate blood flow to the area and relaxes the tissues. You should again be careful to avoid burns and should only apply heat for 20 minutes at time.

So remember:

- Never apply heat to an injury when swelling is involved

- Do not apply heat after exercise or while sleeping

- Do not apply ice to an injury before exercise

- Do not apply ice or heat to skin that is in poor condition or with loss of sensation