Should I use ice or heat?

St George Chiropractor

Using ice or heat on an injury is a very appropriate question. I never tire of answering it. When a patient is in my St George UT chiropractic office and is sincere when they are asking, it shows that they are concerned about their health and want to do what is best for their long term injury recovery.

Ice the Acute Injury

An acute injury is one which is only a day or two old.  Ice works well at reducing the swelling of an injury.  The swelling can create scar tissue and long term health issues.  So it is important to reduce the swelling.

Ice the Joints

When two bones come together, a joint is created.  There are several structures which help to stabilize joints.  When an injury occurs to the joint, soft tissue swelling can impact the function of the joint.   We apply ice to the joint to help keep the swelling down.  Even if the injury is several days or even a few weeks old (like an ankle sprain, or knee injury), we still have you ice the joint.

Heat the Muscles

Proper application of heat can really help muscle tissues.  Muscles are richly vascular (lots of blood).  Applying heat to the muscles can help profuse the tissue with blood, thus promoting faster recovery.   Heat is applied to trigger points, and muscle spasms.  Quite often, it is best to apply some massage or percussion therapy after the heat has been applied.  Heat is applied for less than 20 minutes.  It is best to start with something which is hot, and slowly cools over time.  Some people use ‘rice socks’ or other heat-gel packs which have been heated in the microwave.   Generally, the electric heat pads are not a good idea.  The heat is going the wrong way (starting cold, getting hot and staying hot).  The body responds best to something which starts hot and cools over time.  Too much heat can actually make the injury worse, a lot worse.

When in doubt, use ice

If you are not sure which to use on an injury, use ice.  The heat has the potential to do additional injury.  The complications from ice are minimal.


Featured image courtesy of and Graphics Mouse


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