Ice vs. Heat When Treating Pain

When to use heat or ice

When you return from a long, strenuous workout, and you’re feeling the strain in your body, it’s hard to relax. So, put an ice pack on it. Or is it a heat pack?

We’re here to help set the record straight!


Ice packs are typically used in instances where acute injury has occurred, or an injury that’s taken place over the past 48 hours. Here, the damaged superficial tissues are inflamed and swollen, leaving behind a dull ache in the affected area. Ice helps to assuage the pain, without the use of medication or drugs, while simultaneously decreasing swelling, as well as reducing muscle spasm.

However, you may take note of the fact that athletes ice following a workout. While it’s true that this isn’t an example of acute injury, icing can also be utilized for certain chronic conditions. Immediately following training, it’s common to ice an area of chronic pain to control inflammation.

When using an ice pack, remember to never apply directly to skin, so as to avoid burns.


Heat treatment, unlike cold treatment, is used to relax and loosen muscles, which is typically why it’s used in the case of a chronic condition. Whether you’re heating the area before a workout or simply helping to stimulate blood flow, the heat will soothe muscle tension or stiffness, allowing you to take your mind off the continuous ache and pain.

Similar to a cold, try not to apply heat directly to the bothersome area.

When deciding between heat treatment or ice treatment, take note of your body’s physical reaction to the injury. If it’s a case where there’s swelling and bleeding in the tissue, you do not want to increase blood flow with heat application. Conversely, if there’s tensions or muscle stiffness, you don’t want to ice the area in question and add to the problem.

I am a Hockaday alum and graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN, where I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications. I am an aspiring writer and journalist, and, as an avid reader, I constantly exercise my imagination and whet my appetite for creativity. I am outgoing and personable, and I look forward to incorporating my innate enthusiasm for creativity into my work!

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