Heat or Ice Therapy for Pain Management


August 20, 2021

The old adage goes, “no pain, no gain.” While that phrase is common, there isn’t much to gain from the persistent pain that so many people suffer each day. Fortunately, mild injuries or sore muscles can be treated at home by using heat or ice therapy, but many people are unsure of which to use. Read on to learn more about when you should use ice or heat for pain. 

Cold Therapy

Ice is the ideal choice for sore muscles or injuries when the pain or stiffness is relatively new. Icing painful areas of the body within 48 hours of you first noticed it can help prevent swelling or bruising. It also helps pain by constricting blood vessels, so blood flows less quickly to the area. The best way to use ice is by placing ice cubes in a plastic bag, or utilizing a reusable ice pack, and wrapping it in a towel before applying it to the site of pain. Putting ice directly on skin can cause frostbite. Avoid leaving the wrapped ice bag or pack on for more than 20 minutes at a time, and take 15-20 minutes breaks in between icing sessions. 

Heat Therapy

If ice can reduce pain and bring down swelling, how can heat help? Heat is an excellent choice for injuries over 48 hours old or for chronic pain, like tennis elbow. While ice works by constricting blood flow, heat allows blood vessels to widen, allowing a greater rate of blood flow to the area in question. More blood flow brings more nutrients and oxygen to the painful area, helping to speed up recovery. Heat is also effective at relaxing tight muscles that can also cause neck or back pain, and it can soothe joint pain caused by arthritis. 

To use heat to your advantage, you can place a heating pad on the affected area for up to 20 minutes at a time. Avoid setting your heating pad to a high temperature, and place a towel between the heating pad and skin to prevent burns. As with ice, take breaks of the same duration between heated treatments. 

Which is Best?

Ice works best for acute injuries and new pain or swelling. Some examples include mild sprains, recent bruising, and acute tendonitis.

Heat, on the other hand, tends to be more effective on long-term injuries, pain, or stiffness. Examples of these are long-term tendonitis, chronic arthritis, and persistent muscle tension. 

How We Can Help

If you have tried heat or ice, and your pain persists, make an appointment to see one of our pain management doctors today. They will provide a thorough examination to determine the root of your pain issues in order to create a customized and comprehensive treatment plan that will help you feel better in no time! If you’re ready to get rid of stubborn pain, contact us today to make an appointment.