Life hack: How to tell if you need ice or heat for your pain

Do you suffer from arthritis or another type of injury? You may be used to applying heat or an ice

Do you suffer from arthritis or another type of injury? You may be used to applying heat or an ice pack, but often we can get this switched up.

Roughly, ice is for injuries i.e. superficial tissues that are inflamed, red, hot and swollen, and heat is for muscles.

If used interchangeably, heat can make inflammation worse, and ice can make muscle tension and spasms worse.

Generally speaking, if you add heat to an fresh injury, it’s going to get worse! And if you add ice to an older injury, it will aggravate muscle spasms which are present in back and neck pain.

Below is a helpful infographic from Cleveland Clinic on whether to use ice or heat.

You can apply ice and heat in lots of ways. Experts generally recommend up to 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off: 

  • Ice packs: Frozen peas or corn, ice cubes in a baggie or frozen gel pack.
  • Cold masks: Place a cold mask over your eyes or lay a towel soaked in cold water over your forehead and temples.
  • Moist heat: Enjoy a bath, shower, hot tub or whirlpool using warm, not hot, water.
  • Heat wraps: Drape a heat wrap around your neck like a scarf (great for work or travel).
  • Heating pads or packs: Remove heating pads if the area becomes uncomfortably warm.

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  1. I fractured my shoulder in June, what was very confusing was that the Dr told me I could use either heat or cold which ever made me feel better , I have just started physio and I have been told cold but I can use heat if I want, it is confusing.

  2. I think Dianne. do what makes you feel better. I always have heat for everything. yet my brothers always uses cold

  3. Don’t understand how people don’t know these simple things,cold for injury bruising swollen ect,heat for muscle aches & pains…

  4. I always use cold for most things..Works for me . But hey .Whatever works for you so be it..As long as it works….

  5. You should use cold in the first three days, and heat after that.. But then if a bone is broken ice will hurt a lot… After three days you can alternate heat and ice.. When you add ice the blood vessels close up (the area goes white) and the inflammation gets taken away.. When you add heat the blood rushes to the area. Bringing a fresh supply to collect the inflammation…. Then add ice to carry it away… Make sense???

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