Ice Vs Heat—What’s Better for Your Pain?

ice vs heat

The ice vs heat debate. Your friend told you to always apply heat. The trainer at the gym said to always use both just in case. There’s lots of confusion about this issue and we’re here to help clear it up for you. Let’s jump right in.

Ice vs Heat – how do you pick?

Remember this as a general rule of thumb:

  • Ice is for fresh injuries
  • Heat is for stiff, aching muscles

Heat Application

Heat works to open up blood vessels and increase circulation and blood flow. When blood flow is increased, it supplies nutrients and oxygen that help in relaxing sore muscles, increasing range of motion, reducing pain and decreasing spasms. Basically, heat therapy relaxes and soothes muscles and can heal damaged tissue.  

These are some examples of when you should use heat:

  • Stiff joints
  • Arthritis
  • Recurring injuries
  • Muscle pain or soreness

You can apply heat with a heating pad or with a hot, wet towel. Or, a hot shower or bath may also help to relieve pain. Avoid using heat for a long amount of time and never sleep with a heating treatment on. Typically using heat for 20-minute increments can be most effective.  


Desert Hand and Physical Therapy wants to promote excellence and convenience – that’s why we offer 9 locations valleywide. Choose the location that works best for you and come in to see us today! 


Ice Application

Use ice right after an injury to reduce inflammation—the cold slows your blood flow and reduces pain and swelling. After an injury, the surrounding soft tissue can bruise, become inflamed and swell and the cold helps to reduce these symptoms. Never use cold therapy if your muscles or joints are stiff. Use the RICE Method for 24-48 hours after the injury:

  • Rest the affected area
  • Ice the area to reduce swelling and pain
  • Apply compression to help decrease swelling
  • Elevate the injury to minimize swelling

Here are examples of when to use ice therapy:

Cold therapy treatment options:

  • Ice packs or frozen gel packs
  • Ice baths
  • Ice massage
  • Coolant sprays
  • Cryotherapy

It’s important to respond immediately with any injury. The sooner you can apply the ice to reduce inflammation, the better your chances of healing the injury are. Apply cold therapy for 20 minutes at a time, remove for 10 minutes and then reapply for another 20. You can also use ice to prevent inflammation by applying it after a high-intensity workout.  

Do NOT use ice or heat:

  • If you have diabetes
  • In the presence of infection
  • Over areas of the body with poor circulation
  • Over areas of skin that are in poor condition
  • Over areas of skin with poor sensation to heat or cold

You’re not alone when it comes to deciding ice vs heat therapy. But understanding the benefits of each is key to relieving your type of pain and speeding up your recovery!


Reclaim Your Mobility to Live Pain-Free.  Our physical therapists see injuries of all types at DHT Physical Therapy, whether they’re brought on by everyday activities or sports or you aren’t really sure what’s causing you pain.  We’re here to help you overcome injuries and reclaim your mobility to live life pain-free.  

Request to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced physical therapists today.

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