Heat or Ice? What Should You Use In Case of Injury?

When you’re dealing with pain, should you ice it or heat it? Read our guide because you deserve to heal faster.

Flex 'em
4 min read
Icing or heating? Slay the confusion forever and get a bird’s eye view of the issue and the science behind it. (Photo: Nikita Mishra/<b><i>The Quint</i></b>)

Always ice an injury and heat an ache? No, nooo!

Like coffee and yoga, pain management comes in more than one temperature.

A sprained ankle, a dizzy head, cramps, low back pain, stiff joints – pain is debilitating and disrupting – some aches loosen up with heat and others benefit from ice.

Pain relief is a gift from God! I spoke to various doctors to put together a comprehensive guide of when to use hot or cold packs. And the only thing clear is, there is soooo much confusion even in the medical fraternity over what tempers pain faster because there is no clear-cut evidence, one way or another.


(Photo: Nikita Mishra/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo: Nikita Mishra/The Quint)
One rule to always follow is the timing of the injury. If it’s new, icing constricts the blood flow, cuts down the swelling and lowers pain. Heat, on the other hand, is for older injuries or flare-ups and repairs damaged tissues and muscles.

Keep in mind: If you’re badly injured and have anything more than a muscle jerk, see a doctor. A stress injury, a broken bone or a cut that needs stitches will only get worse with ice, heat or painkillers. And now, keep scrolling for a detailed guide.

Also Read: Is Your Back In Safe Hands? How To Pick the Right Physiotherapist

Ice Is For Injuries

(Photo: Nikita Mishra/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo: Nikita Mishra/The Quint)

Swelling or inflammation is your body’s natural, normal reaction to an injury that is also incredibly painful. Ice constricts the blood flow and dulls the pain and inflammation.

When To Use Ice: Ice is your best friend immediately after any acute (sudden) injury. Or if the injured area is red, warm and swollen and after a gym/workout injury. Remember it like this, if it looks like fire, douse it with ice.

After a fresh injury, cooling the area is utterly important to avoid any further inflammation. So if you’ve just sprained an ankle, or pulled a muscle, have a running injury, or joint pain, reach for the cold gel pack – an ice bag or frozen ice cubes tied in a cloth for 15 to 20 minutes – every hour or two. Prop the injured area on an elevated pillow and continue ice compressions on an interval for at least two days.

A torn muscle is a tough call because ice is for injuries and not muscle pain. Doctors advise icing for the first day or two to take the edge off the swelling and then switching to heat treatment. Keep in mind that ice therapy loses its magic after two days of the injury, after that, gentle warmth helps better.

Also Read: 7 Ways Your Smartphone is Ruining Your Health

Heat Is For Muscles

Well, roughly.

I once used a hot bag on a twisted ankle and boy, it swelled up like a balloon! Similarly, icing painful, torn muscles is a horrible, horrible idea. A stiff neck will get more stubborn and ache acutely if you ice it.

(Photo: Nikita Mishra/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo: Nikita Mishra/The Quint)

Heat therapy helps with circulation and mobility.

When to use heat: You use ice for a recent injury, and heat things up for older aches and pains which have been bugging you for years. Overworked muscles which have knots in them and menstrual cramps loosen up magically with heat wraps.

To make it clear, if your neck, shoulder or back always acts up in the same spot, or you have arthritis or spondylitis, then heat treatment will help. But if you slept funny, woke up with a painful crick in your neck (sudden injury) or come down with an acute headache, blast it off with ice for a numbing, soothing effect.

Heat increases blood-flow and repairs tissues by clearing any build-up of lactic acid which causes soreness. Before a workout, heat pads will loosen sore muscles and relax the tissues. However, for post workout pain, ice things up.

Also, moist heat heals pain faster. So alternate a damp, warm towel between hot packs and see the difference for yourself.

(Note: If you suffering from diabetes or any blood circulatory problems such as Raynaud’s disease, check with your doctor first.)

Also Read: Text Neck: Is Your Smartphone Destroying your Spine?

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