Should I Use Ice or Heat for an Injury?

Sports Injuries

May 23, 2019


When you’re injured, you want the pain to stop as soon as possible. Sometimes, that means resting and taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory. Those are tried and true at-home remedies that anyone can do at a moment’s notice. But there’s also usually some contradictory information: A well-intentioned friend may recommend icing the injury, while a concerned neighbor may say that applying heat therapy would be best. Which one is it?

When to Use Ice For an Injury

If you’ve experienced an acute injury such as a fall, or were hit by a person or an object, or sprained a muscle, icing the injured body part will reduce pain and prevent swelling. If your injury caused the skin to open, wrap the ice pack in a towel or cloth to avoid freeze burns at the injury site.

Anything cold will do: ice inside a bag, a frozen ice therapy pack, or a bag of frozen vegetables straight from the freezer. Keep the area iced for about 10 minutes. If the injury becomes numb before then, you may remove the ice pack. You can repeat the process.

Keep the injured area elevated while icing it. Repeat the process several times throughout the first 48 hours of injury.

When to Use Heat For an Injury

Heat therapy works best for chronic conditions, for instance, muscle soreness after physical activity or from the repetitive movements of job duties. Heat packs also work well for joint pain due to health conditions, such as bursitis. In addition to alleviating soreness and pain, heat can reduce stiffness.

Apply a heating pad for 15 minutes at a time, directly where you feel discomfort. It will stimulate blood flow and relaxation. If you opt for a plug-in heating pad, set an alarm for 10 minutes, in case you fall asleep.

If you have diabetes, consult your physician for instructions regarding heat therapy, since heat can affect your blood sugar level.

Never use heat packs for acute injuries or infected areas, as doing so promotes additional blood flow to the injury and could result in additional damage to the injured tissue.

When to See a Doctor

If you have an injury that requires ice or heat therapy, pain and swelling should subside within the first 24 to 48 hours. If that doesn’t happen, seek medical attention immediately.

If you’ve suffered from an acute injury (such as a fall, car accident, or a blow), inform your doctor to avoid complications such as post-traumatic osteoarthritis.

24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas

If you’ve been injured and the pain is not subsiding, we can provide the care you need. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.

Find the Complete Care location nearest you.