Heat vs Ice Debate

The Heat vs Ice debate

It’s surprising to think that this could be a debacle, but the confusion about this issue has been ongoing for some time. As much as it’s surprising, it’s also a shame. Therapeutic icing and heating are cheap and self- treatment options for many common treatments. This blog will give you a general understanding of what the purpose is for each treatment. In addition, we will also go over when and when not to use it.

Why we would use Ice or Heat? Let me begin by saying that here at the Injury Care Center we get the question when to use the ice and heat quite often. The simple answer is, it all depends. We indicate to our patients to use ice on new injuries and heat for stiff muscles and old injuries. But let’s dig down into the details. Ice is for injuries – The inflammatory process is actually a healthy natural response to healing. However, it’s also a painful process. Icing is a simplistic way of controlling that swelling but most importantly controlling that nagging pain. Some examples: a new case of Patella tendinitis, Bicep tendonitis, Achilles tendonitis, swollen joint, or a freshly pulled muscle. Heat is for stiff achy muscles and chronic pain – One of the most popular areas of the body that is riddled with chronic pain is the lower back. The lower back chronic pain often involves tightness and tension that requires heat to help alleviate the tension and tightness.

When not to use Ice and Heat? There are times when not to use Ice and or heat. Both ice and heat have potential to do some minor harm. At times, heat can make inflammatory issues worse. Ice can aggravate muscles that are already stiff. Both, if used improperly, can also increase pain levels. Both ice and heat are pointless if used incorrectly. Adding heat to a new injury will make it worse. Sometimes adding ice to muscle pain will increase pain levels. At the Injury Care Center we educate patients when and when not to use either one. So is Ice better than heat or is heat better over the Ice? It all depends. Both can be good options to treat either chronic or acute injuries. Think of ice as a pain reliever, an analgesic if you will. Ice should be used for acute pain or a new injury that is causing swelling. It works by reducing blood flow and inversely reducing swelling to a particular area. Ice works well around joints and tendon areas. It can also have an effect on nerve activity, which can reduce pain levels. Heat should be used for chronic pain or an injury that is not acute.

Heat is used to loosen and relax soft tissue and muscles. This is accomplished because of the increased blood flow to the area. Heat can be used prior to activity but not so much after that specific activity. They are both good options depending on the injuries you may have. They both are also good options because they are cheap, safe, and easy to use. We also take the time to educate our patients about the proper time to use either one. There are also times when both can be used alternately. This is called contrast therapy. This type of therapy is mostly used to facilitate recovery. Remember both Ice and heat do not fix anything. They help with us feel better in that moment.

At the Injury Care Center we use both as good options to help effectively treat a patient’s condition. Please remember not to use Ice or heat in place of medical help. If you have sustained an injury please contact your physician to get checked out. This is important before you decide to use ice and or heat. Your physician will be able to advise you on the proper way to apply ice or heat. The bottom line This is the bottom line, always get medical help when needed. However, when getting medical help is not warranted, know the basics of when to use ice and or heat. For instance, if your ankle swells up like a balloon after twisting it, heat would not be your best option. Regardless what you use, ice or heat, just understand the basic principles when to use this form of therapeutic treatment. Consider us at the Injury Care center for any injuries you may have. We will guide you with the best intentions. Our goal is to have all our patients recover in a safe environment.

Chris Arhontakis


If you would like us to evaluate your injury, please call: 877-444-2422.

Or Visit a location near you:

Injury Care Center
901 W. Ashland Avenue
Glenolden, Pa 19036
Phone: 610-461-6522
Injury Care Center
1502 Upland Street
Chester, Pa 19013
Injury Care Center
3300 Grant Avenue
Suite #20
Philadelphia, PA 19114