When In Pain? Should I Use Heat Or Ice Therapy?

  • 13 months ago
5 minute read.
When In Pain? Should I Use Heat Or Ice Therapy?

The use of ice and heat therapy can be very effective in the treatment of various types of pain, including muscle aches, headaches, joint pain, menstrual cramps, and other sources of discomfort.

When choosing what type of therapy you should use to alleviate your pain, however, it’s important to understand the difference between heat and cold therapy so that you can pick the option that’s right for you.

Treating Pain With Heat And Cold

As for muscle pain or stiffness, the best way to decide whether you need ice or heat is to feel your pain. While both heat and cold can relieve muscle pain and stiffness, it’s important to know when to use each one. For some types of injuries, researchers suggest using cold therapy (ice or a cold pack) immediately after an injury.

Cold constricts blood vessels, thus reducing swelling and inflammation that would otherwise prevent injured muscles from working properly.

Caution: As with anything else, however, too much of a good thing can be harmful; ice therapy should be used for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Longer exposure could cause frostbite.

If you are experiencing muscle spasms followed by tightness, try applying moist heat right away. The warmth will help relax the muscles, easing any discomfort while also providing temporary relief of the symptoms. However, if your muscles have tightened up because of prolonged immobility or because you’ve been clenching them without realizing it, apply ice rather than heat.

How To Get The Most Out Of Both Heat and Cold Therapies

If you’re in pain, you want relief and you want it now. It doesn’t matter whether that relief comes from ice or heat (or a cold beer after work), as long as it works. When it comes to addressing pains, you’ll find heat and cold options available. While both methods have proven benefits, use cold therapy first as it helps reduce swelling while providing temporary pain relief. But how can you get the most out of both ice and heat when treating an injury? Here are four keys to help ensure you maximize your therapy time while preventing damage to healthy tissue.

#1. When To Use Ice Or Heat On An Injury

Treating acute injuries with ice is recommended for the first 48 hours to minimize swelling and inflammation, according to guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine. For chronic injuries like arthritis, try applying heat before icing so that inflammation decreases first and then cools down afterward. Avoid using either on a fresh wound—use only clean water until healing has begun.

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Cold can help numb your senses during and after exercise, thus reducing muscle pain or stiffness. If you are using just ice as cold therapy, increase the ice time to 20 minutes per application. When in pain, should I use heat or ice therapy? Always start with a cold as it reduces inflammation which may be causing your pain.

#2. When To Apply Hot Therapy

When dealing with chronic conditions like arthritis, applying heat will warm up the joint by increasing circulation and making muscles more pliable. Be careful when applying this therapy to an acute injury, though—as explained above, too much warmth can make things worse by causing increased swelling and inflammation. When deciding between ice or heat for relief, look at what your injury needs to heal quickly.

#3. When To Apply Cold Therapy

Wrapping an injured muscle in a bag of frozen peas isn’t the best idea when looking for pain relief. However, cold treatments can be very effective when used properly because they constrict blood vessels and slow the heart rate, reducing the amount of oxygen going to damaged cells, thereby reducing swelling and inflammation.

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#4. The Dangers Of Using Both At The Same Time

When applied together, ice and heat may increase blood flow to the area which could cause more harm than good. The safest bet is to use one or the other at a time; however, if you need immediate relief there’s no reason not to mix them up! Just be sure not to apply them simultaneously.

Safety Tips For Using Cold Or Heat Therapy

#1. Always Check Your Skin Right After The Ice Or Heat Treatment

Check for any signs of frostbite, discoloration, blistering, swelling, tenderness, etc., and discontinue the treatment if you notice any of these symptoms.

#2. Make Sure You’re Using Ice Or Heat At A Safe Temperature

Make sure that the temperature is neither too less nor too much, to avoid any negative side effects like frostbite, discoloration, blistering, swelling, and tenderness.

#3. Make The Right Choice Of Therapy Considering The Factors Involved

The choice between which therapy is better for your injury depends on many factors including how long you need relief from the pain and what kind of injury it is. If an injury has been healing but starts hurting again, it might be a good idea to use ice because it helps reduce inflammation whereas heat will only make the inflammation worse. For injuries that are still fresh, use heat instead because it helps speed up the recovery process by stimulating blood flow and increasing blood circulation which promotes healing.

#4. Check The Type Of Injury Involved

When deciding whether to use ice or heat for relieving pain, think about whether the injury needs to heal quickly or slowly. When should I use ice v/s heat? If there's an injury that needs time to heal slowly, then start with cold packs followed by heat. When should I use ice v/s heat? If there's an injury that needs time to heal quickly, then start with hot packs followed by cold treatments.

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#5. Remember To Never Apply Heat Directly Onto The Skin

This can cause third-degree burns (i.e., burns that reach all layers of the skin).

Instead, place a towel over the area and apply heat underneath it. Another option is to use gel packs so they don't come into contact with your skin while they're heated up. When applying either type of treatment, take care not to put them too close to sensitive areas such as feet, groin, or armpits where they may get burned more easily.


Both heat and ice can provide pain relief, but there are some important differences to keep in mind. When deciding whether to use ice or heat on an injury, choose whichever provides you with more immediate pain relief—but also consider how soon you will be able to get professional medical treatment for your injury. If a condition is severe enough that it might require hospitalization, don’t delay seeking treatment by using cold therapy at home.

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