Ice vs. Heat: Relieving Aches and Pains

Posted: Jul 25th 2023
Categories: Orthopaedics

Daily living throws a lot our way that takes a toll on our bodies over time. From sprained ankles to pulled muscles and headaches, when it comes to treating these aches and pains many of us wonder which is better, ice or heat? That all depends on what type of injury or symptom you are experiencing.

Heat and Ice Therapy

Heat and ice therapy are common pain management options used for orthopaedic injuries. If you’ve experienced an acute injury (sudden onset injury) such as a sprain, strain, or fracture, avoid using any heat therapy. As tempting and soothing as it may sound, heat increases inflammation and can prolong the healing process.

The best treatment for an acute, sudden onset injury is Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (RICE). These modalities will help control swelling and limit the inflammatory process. Heat is excellent to use for stiff joints and tight muscles as it can help increase mobility. Patients may use heat while stretching in the morning or before a workout. It is important to not use heat on a swollen joint as it can make symptoms worse. We recommend to ice down your affected joint after a workout as well.

John C. Karpie, MD, Orthopaedics, Orthopaedic Surgery, Joint Replacements, Sports Medicine

Ice therapy stops swelling and can help manage pain associated with your injury. Cryotherapy, or ice therapy, can be applied in a variety of ways. Some methods include:

  • Ice spray
  • Ice bath
  • Ice or gel pack
  • Ice massage

Heat therapy, on the other hand, is best used on older or chronic injuries. You should never apply heat to a swollen area, as heat promotes blood flow and will only attract more blood to the area. Heat therapy can relax tight muscles, relieve aches and pains, and help improve range of motion in stiff joints.

As always, exercise caution when using ice and heat therapy, as both can cause burns. Always wrap a towel over an ice pack, do not place ice directly onto bare skin. Also, limit the amount of time spent using heat therapy such as a heating pad as they can cause burns or overheating.

Get an Expert Opinion

Whether you’ve recently experienced an injury, or suffer from chronic pain like arthritis, it’s always best to consult with your doctor on what therapy is best for you. Pain and injury can sideline us from activities we enjoy most, but with the right treatment plan you will be back at it in no time.

Call our expert orthopaedic team to schedule a consult today at (716) 204-1101.