Ice or heat?

Ice or heat? Which is better?

I am often asked by patient which is best, ice or heat for an injury. The simple answer is that it depends on the type of injury and how long it has been there for.

Firstly, let’s see what impact ice and heat can have on the bodies tissues:


  •  Decrease blood flow to an area
  •  Decrease swelling/inflammation
  •  Generalised numbing of an area
  •  Constrict/tighten muscles


  •  Increase blood flow to an area
  •  Relaxation of tight muscles
  •  Increased movement/mobility

As you can see, ice and heat have opposite effects.


When to apply ice – Immediately  and up to 72 hours after an injury has occured, with the aim to reduce the pain and swelling. The most common areas being ankle, knee, wrist and shoulder. Use ice for a period of 20 minutes every 1-2 hours

When to apply heat:

  •  Chronic injuries – longer than 12 weeks
  •  Muscle or joint stiffness/tightness
  •  Osteoarthritic joints – warms the joint up, encourages blood flow to the area before moving
  •  Before exercise – especially that early morning golf tee-off


When not to apply ice – Onto burns or sensitive skin. Avoid using before or during exercise, as it may reduce the flexibility of a joint/muscle

When not to apply heat – On acute inflammation (swelling, redness or hot), open wounds and avoid using if you are diabetic.

If in doubt as to which one to use, ask your chiropractor!



Mitchell Roberts – Chiropractor