Should You Be Using Ice or Heat To Relieve Pain?


When you’re sore or injured, is hot therapy or cold therapy your first choice for pain relief? In other words, do you prefer to dull the ache with a heating pad, or an ice pack? Ice or heat is a long-time, ongoing, and often confusing issue with plenty of theories and opinions from athletes and experts, alike. And just like so many other health-related topics, new studies routinely pop up that often contradict whatever advice you’ve followed in the past. We’re not going to attempt to settle the whole debate once and for all here in a single blog post, but we can give you the most widely accepted approaches to choosing between ice or heat for pain management that we’ve found.

When And Where To Use Ice Or Heat

Overall, using ice or heat to treat pain is a safe, convenient, and inexpensive option that nearly anyone can adopt and utilize with ease. The key is choosing the correct temperature (hot or cold) to use on the specific type of pain you’re experiencing. Oh, and also to keep in mind that where the pain is can make a difference, as well.

One easy way to remember when to use cold therapy instead of hot is that ice is for injuries. Injury, in this case, means some type of damage that results in swelling and inflammation – like a bruise or sprain. One very important point to remember is that the ice pack will not heal the injury. You’re merely using the colder temperature to literally numb and hopefully minimize the pain. It’s also a good way to deal with common overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis, gout, shin splints, tennis elbow, and tendinitis.

Heat therapy helps when the goal is to loosen up and relax any non-inflamed area of the body – think sore muscles and stress relief. Did you overdo it your first day back at the gym? Hit it with some heat. Muscle spasms, arthritis, or just some general stiffness? Break out the heating pad.

One thing to take particular note of is that nearly all experts agree that you should rarely – if ever – ice any type of back or neck pain. Since any pain in those areas involve tightening of the surrounding muscles, icing it will usually only end up making the pain worse.

Again, ice or heat therapy is a simply short-term, economical pain relief treatment you can implement yourself – it’s not intended as a cure for any damage or injuries you may have sustained somewhere along the way. If you’re experiencing ongoing, chronic pain anywhere, please contact your health care provider to arrange a more thorough check-up and evaluation.