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Are you injured? When to use Heat VS Ice therapy!

How many times have you been confused about whether to use heat or ice on your injury? This is a common question that I get asked often in my practice. Hopefully the following information can help you next time you are faced with this question!

Physiological Properties Ice and Heat

The main response from the body when applying ice is a “shrinking” or vasoconstriction of the skins vessels. Heat application causes an “opening” or vasodilation. The effects of cold and heat on the body include:


  • Applying over any metal or jewellery
  • Over areas of altered sensation
  • Heat application on any open wounds or sores
  • Directly over any bony bumps
  • Heat application to an acute injury or inflammation
  • Impaired circulation

Tips for application

  1. Ice 10-20 min.
  2. Compression and elevation with ice application for swollen limbs
  3. Heat 15-30 min
  4. Rewarming times is twice as long as cooling times (e.g. 15 min on-> 30 min re-warming)
  5. Place a damp towel between the skin and heat/ice pack to help prevent frostbit or burns


  1. Do you wake up stiff in the mornings but then find that you loosen up the more you move?
    Then heat will work best for you
  2. Do you see noticeable swelling around the area of pain and feel heat when touching the area?
    Ice is best
  3. Can I use both heat and ice?
    Yes! Heat can be applied to a stiff joint prior to activity to help loosen up the joint and increase range of motion. Ice can then be applied post activity to help prevent any inflammation or soreness.


Heat is generally best for individuals with arthritis. Joint stiffness can cause pain with movement. Applying heat or participating in appropriate activity can increase the circulation to the joint, thereby improving range of motion and decreasing pain.

If you are experiencing active swelling and have pain with movement, ice will help with reducing inflammation and decreasing pain levels. It is not recommended to ice before participation in activity.

Kristen Sarlo
Athletic Therapist
Registered Kinesiologist

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