Heat or Ice: What Should Be Used and When?

Using heat or ice is an easy and typically inexpensive way to relieve pain. Does one work better than the other? How do you determine which you should use? We'll dig deeper into the topic of heat versus ice for pain relief.

How Heat Works

When you apply heat to the tissues in the body it increases blood flow to the area. When this happens, the cells used for healing in the blood are more efficiently transported around the body to promote healing. Warmth to the area can also help reduce the sensation of pain and relax tense muscles.

Common types of heat for pain relief include moist heat such as moist hot packs, hot whirlpools or baths, and steamed towels. Dry heat can come in the forms of hot packs, paraffin wax or saunas.

Therapeutic ultrasound is also a, effective way to provide heat to the superficial or deep tissues in the muscles and joints.

How Ice Works

When ice or cryotherapy is applied to the tissues in the body it reduces the amount of blood flow to the area. This in turn slows down inflammation and swelling to injuries. Lowering the temperature to the skin can reduce pain and nerve activity.

Common ways to use ice or cryotherapy are with ice baths, ice packs, cold whirlpools, ice massage, and coolant sprays.

When to choose Heat or Ice

Whether to use heat or ice for your pain relief depends on 2 factors. How long you have had the injury and the area of pain. Ice is the preferred treatment for acute or new injuries. Heat can increase inflammation and swelling to the area during the healing phases. Heat is an option when treating injuries that are 6 weeks old or longer. Chronic pain such as back pain or arthritis in the joints can see pain relief with heat. Heat also is easier to use on larger body parts or areas of pain, where ice is easier to use on isolated areas.

The Bottom Line With Heat or Ice

The main thing to keep in mind when using heat or ice for pain relief, is if you have any questions regarding how to manage your pain- ask your healthcare professional. You should also make sure that you are safely using each modality so that you don't cause more injuries. Contact Dr. Shane Silver today to learn more about the best pain management methods for you.