Ice or Heat for an injury – which is better?

I encounter this question often from patients in the office. 

Ice is commonly used for acute injuries – meaning that you have just twisted your ankle, sprained your back, etc.   Ice provides the most benefit in the first 24-48 hours after  an injury.  The ice minimizes swelling and inflammation, which in turn decreases pain.

Typically, ice is applied to the area of pain for 20 minutes.  More than this can cause cold injury to the tissues, and in extreme cases frostbite.  After the 48 hour mark, discontinue the use of ice.

Heating pads are most beneficial for chronic pains – like recurrent back pain, or known shoulder problem.   Heat will relax and loosen tissues by increasing blood flow to the area of pain.

Heating pads can be applied to the area of pain for no longer than 20 minutes at a time.  Skin burns have occurred with longer heating times.  Specifically, do not go to sleep with a heating pad applied anywhere.


About cschaffer78

I'm a family practice physician in Evansville, IN. My practice is described as "full-spectrum" family practice, meaning I see patients "from cradle to grave". I care for men and women of all ages, I deliver babies, and even follow my patients when they are hospitalized. Medical Disclaimer The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider
This entry was posted in Exercise, Injuries, Skin, Sports. Bookmark the permalink.

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