Ice or Heat?

Many people ask the question whether to use ice or heat to help reduce their pain and speed the recovery process. Our opinion is that ice is usually the answer. Most of the conditions we treat in our office present with some degree of inflammation and swelling. Ice should be applied immediately after an injury to slow down the inflammation and swelling. Ice works like a local anesthetic to numb the injured tissue by slowing down the nerve impulses and interrupting the pain/muscle spasm reaction. When the tissue becomes cold, the veins and arteries contract and reduce circulation. Once the ice has been removed and the body temperature returns to normal, the constriction is released and nutrients return to the affected area and help speed up the recovery process.

Ice can be applied for 20-30 minutes at a time. We recommend that you ice continuously 20 min on, 20 min off, 20 min on, 20 min off and so forth. Being consistent with icing may allow the body to heal itself faster.

Ice Burn!!!

An Ice burn can occur if the ice has been left on area for too long or placed directly on the skin. Always place a towel or any other material between the ice pack and your skin.


Do not ice if you have any of the following conditions or circumstances
Raynauds Phenomenon – A condition affecting small blood vessels in the extremities. Exposure to cold may cause a return in symptoms.
Cold Hypersensitivity – There are many forms of cold hypersensitivity, which includes:

  • Cold Urticaria – Also known as hives. A release of histamine during re-warming after a period of cooling, causing red, itchy welts on the skin.
  • Cold Erythema – A rash characterized by redness and itching, caused by exposure to cold. This condition can cause severe pain and muscular spasms.
  • Cold Hemoglobinuria – When red blood cells break down so quickly that some hemoglobin cannot combine with blood proteins.

Anesthesia – When there is an area of numbness or altered sensitivity, cold therapy should not be used because the pain and the degree of cooling cannot be felt by the patient.

Written by Courtney Trautman, LMTĀ  Edited by Dr. Kaff, D.C.