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Ice or Heat?


“Should I use ice or heat?”

This is a question we get asked SO often in the clinic and the answer is dependent on you and your condition.
Young-woman-suffering-from-an-ankle injury whilem exercising

What happens when you injure yourself?

When you sustain an injury (e.g. sprain your ankle) a few things will happen within your body.

At the site of injury ligaments, muscles, tendons and even bone may be damaged. This stimulates nerve fibers in the area and sends signals to your brain that are perceived as pain by you. Capillaries (small blood vessels) in the area are also torn which causes blood to leak into the surrounding tissues. This is why you may notice the injured area becoming red, hot and swollen.

When your body detects an injury, it initiates an inflammatory response. The body sends a number of cells that heal and repair tissues to the injured area. Blood flow is increased to supply the area with more oxygen and nutrients that assist with healing.

When should you use ice?

Ice is typically used for acute injuries. For example, if you fall and roll your ankle, it may become painful, red, hot and puffy. Ice will help to slow blood flow to the area, decrease swelling, redness and heat.

Following an injury, ice should be applied for roughly 20 minutes every 2 hours over the first 48-72 hours.

How to apply ice?

When using ice, make sure there is a barrier between your skin and the ice (wet cloth, towel etc.). Even though ice is cold, it can still burn you.

icing an ankle
Pain in lower back

When should you use heat?

Heat increases blood flow to an area so it is no recommended for use in an acute situation (muscle tear, ligament sprain, broken bone etc.).

Use heat when your muscles and joints feel stiff. You can use heat prior to playing sport or exercising in order to warm up the area. You can also use heat after a treatment with your physio or osteo!

How to apply heat?

You can use a heated wheat bag. Ensure there is a barrier between the wheat bag and your skin. Again, you don’t want to be burnt. Apply to the area for 15-20 minutes (usually the wheat bag cools down at this point).

There are other heated devices out there which you can use. Make sure you discuss with your health care professional which is best for you to use.

In summary…

Use whatever works best for you! If it made you feel good, then you did the right thing.

Just be sure to keep the above information in mind when deciding between ice and heat use.

If you are unsure about the use of ice or heat, please consult us at the clinic. We are always happy to help!

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