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  • Writer's pictureDr Travis Horne

Heat or Ice? Which is Better for Your Pain?

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

Have you ever found yourself with an ache or pain wondering, “Should I apply heat or ice?” Here we’ll explain which situations call for heat and which call for ice, as well as what to do if neither is helping.

First off, a general rule of thumb is to use ice for recent, acute injuries that are less than 6 weeks old and heat for long-term injuries that have been persisting for over 6 weeks. The reason is ice constricts blood vessels, numbing pain and reducing inflammation, which is what you need for a new injury. Heat, on the other hand, increases blood flow to relax tight muscles and aching joints. Heat can increase inflammation in certain injuries, so give us a call if you are unsure which to use for your particular injury.

Heat is often best for:

  • Arthritis

  • Headaches caused by neck spasms

  • Muscle spasms

  • Tendinosis

  • Relieving stiffness of strains and sprains after inflammation has resolved

Ice is best for:

  • New injuries

  • Strains and sprains

  • Sports injuries

  • Throbbing headaches

  • Gout flare-ups

  • Tendinitis (commonly in the shoulder, elbow, knee, and wrist)

Applying Heat and Ice

An ice pack or bag of frozen peas makes a great ice pack that molds to the injured area. Conversely, a warm bath, heat wrap, or heating pad can be used for heat therapy.

Apply heat or ice for 20 minutes at a time, taking a break of at least 20 minutes in between sessions. Remove the heat or ice if it becomes uncomfortable and do not apply ice directly to the skin, wrap it in a lightweight cloth or towel.

When the Pain Isn’t Improving

If at-home heat or ice therapy isn’t improving your condition, give us a call. We’ll get you in for a visit to see if we can help.

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