Many times patients ask me if they should be using heat or ice for there pain/injuries and why.  Below you will find the answers.

Ice is also known in the medical field as cryotherapy. The goal is to decrease  inflammation, decrease pain and spasm, and promote vasoconstriction which is the narrowing of the blood vessels resulting from contraction of the muscular wall of the vessels.

When you are injured,  an inflammatory response occurs at the site of the injury.   Signs of tissue inflammation may include pain, redness, warmth, swelling/edema, and decreased function. Inflammation can develop from both acute injuries, such as ligament sprains or tears, and chronic injuries, such as arthritis or tendinitis.

Acute injuries cause the blood vessels in the affected region  to begin to vasodilate. Vasodilatation facilitates greater flow of blood to the region allowing the transportation of important fluids and proteins into the area that further assist the body’s defense mechanisms


How long should I keep Ice on and is it true that the longer the ice is on the better it is?

No, Ice should be applied for 15minutes at a time to receive the initial effect which is vasoconstriction. If ice is applied for a long period of time it can actually lead to vasodilation which has an adverse effect and may facilitate the inflammatory response rather than limit its effect.

So bottom line is that Ice should be used for acute injuries. If you have a recent injury (within the last 48 hours) where swelling is a problem, you should be using ice treatment.


When should I use heat?

Heat treatments should be used for chronic conditions to help relax and loosen tissues, and to stimulate blood flow to the area.

Because heat increases circulation and raises skin temperature, you should not apply heat to acute injuries or injuries that show signs of inflammation or swelling.  You do not want to use heat treatments after activity, and would not want to  use heat after an acute injury. After a workout, ice is the better choice on a chronic injury. Heat should be applied before activities that irritate chronic injuries such as muscle strains. Heat can help loosen tissues and relax injured areas. Heat should be applied for about  15  minutes at a time.