Written By: James Hayes
Chiropractor

When should I use ice and when should I use heat? It is a question we get asked frequently at Dee Why Chiropractic Care and we want to give you clarity on how to use heat and ice effectively and appropriately.

As a general rule:

  • Ice

    Acute injuries that have occurred within 72 hours, to limit pain and swelling.

  • Heat

    Used for chronic conditions to relieve muscle pain or stiffness.

Ice

Whenever you have an acute injury like as an ankle sprain or muscle tear, inflammation and swelling will occur. When we apply ice to the injured area it numbs the area limiting the severity of the pain. What it also does is constricts blood vessels to the area hence limiting the swelling and pain.

Examples of conditions to use ice:

  • Sprained ankle
  • Muscle tears
  • Whiplash
  • Sprained wrist
  • Shoulder dislocation
  • Muscle contusion
  • Acute tendinitis

Ice packs are cheap and extremely helpful when needed, so we suggest having one in your freezer ready to go. Otherwise a bag of peas will also do the trick!

When treating an acute injury with ice its best to wrap it up a cloth to avoid direct contact with the skin as it can cause a burn or skin irritation. It is recommended that you use the ice for 20 minutes, 2-3 times a day post injury.

When not to use ice:

  • If you suffer from a sensory disorder where you have an inability to feel certain sensations because you will not be able to feel damage if it is being done
  • If you have poor circulation
  • On stiff muscles or joints

Heat

Heat therapy is typically used to treat chronic muscle pain and joint stiffness. Adding heat to an area of muscle tightness will soothe discomfort and increase the muscle flexibility. Heat does this by increasing blood supply and circulation to the affected area.

Examples of when to use heat:

  • Chronic neck pain and stiffness
  • Chronic low back pain and stiffness
  • Muscle tightness
  • Joint stiffness

Heat packs can be purchased from any chemist and are very affordable. Otherwise having a hot water bottle will always get the job done. It is recommended that you apply heat to the affected area for 10-15 minutes, 2-3 times a day.

Office workers tend to have chronic neck and shoulders tightness. Heat is excellent at relieving these symptoms and we suggest having a heat pack at work to get relief during the day!

When not to use heat:

Do not use heat on an open wound or a bruise as it will promote further bleeding.

Individuals with any of the following pre-existing conditions should consult a doctor prior to use due to a higher risk of burns or complications:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Dermatitis
  • Vascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Heat and ice therapy is a common home remedy we suggest to our patients as it aids in their recovery. It is advised that the application of heat or ice should be instructed by a professional to limit the chances of any complications and improve results.