Heat and ice can both be beneficial treatment options to help minimize pain and your discomforts at home. But many times our clients don’t know which option would be best for them. Over the years, we have found that some people do better with heat and others find greater benefits from the use of ice.

Ice is typically used for acute or more recent injuries, while heat can be more beneficial for long-standing muscular or chronic pain. Ice is a great option for the first 48-72 hours after an injury or an exacerbation of symptoms. It helps to reduce any swelling, which causes some of your pain that may occur with an acute injury. The use of heat helps to soothe stiff joints and relaxes muscular tension.

Here are some helpful tips for when to use ICE:
Use ice to reduce inflammation, especially within the first 72 hours after an injury or flare-up. It is best to get ice on the area immediately.
* Use ice when a joint or muscle feels red, inflamed, swollen, or hot.
* Use ice after activities if you are sore. Do not use heat after activities.
* Apply a bag of frozen vegetables or a bag of ice cubes directly to your skin. If using an ice pack it is recommended to moisten a paper towel and use as a barrier between the ice pack and your skin.
* Apply ice for 10-15 minutes. You can ice as frequently as one time per hour.
* When using ice it is normal to feel increased discomfort in the first 5 minutes before the area becomes numb. Take some deep breaths and it will get better once the area numbs.

Here are some helpful tips for when to use HEAT:
* Heat will cause the blood vessels to open which can stimulate inflammation rather than eliminate it. This is why you don’t want to use heat within the first 72 hours after injury.
* Use heat in more chronic conditions to help relax and loosen tight muscles, as well as to calm the nervous system.
* Heat tends to feel very good for chronic pain conditions or with arthritis.
* Use heat prior to activity to help loosen the muscles. Don’t use heat after activities.
* Apply heat by using a heating pad. If your heating pad came with a pad moisten it prior to application to be used as a barrier between the pad and your skin.
* Apply heat for 15 minutes. You can heat as frequently as one time per hour.
* NEVER fall asleep when using heat. It is very important to monitor the temperature while heating as it can cause burns.
* People with sensation changes should use heat with extreme caution.

So, the next time you strain a muscle make sure you reach for the ice pack for the first 72 hours. If you have chronic pain give heat a try. Sometimes it is a personal preference whether your body tolerates heat or ice better. In a chronic situation try both and use whichever makes your symptoms feel better.

Check in with your therapist at NBT if you have any questions on the uses of ice and heat.