Ice or Heat: Which is Better for Treating Injuries?

It Depends and Here’s Why

Our patient Priscilla was walking to her car outside the Panera Bread near Pines Boulevard when she sprained her ankle. She didn’t trip on anything—she just put her foot down wrong on the pavement.

Her ankle swelled and soon hurt so much it was impossible to walk.

Another patient, Jim, used to work out regularly at the LA Fitness on NW 125th Street in Pembroke Pines. But what started out as a little twinge in his lower back slowly grew to more serious pain, and he had to scale back his weight-lifting routine.

Two different patients, two very different injuries. We’d suggest heat treatment for one and ice treatment for the other. Can you tell the difference?

When to Use Ice for an Injury

Ice is an anti-inflammatory and a pain reliever. It is usually recommended for an acute injury – or one that happened suddenly, like a sprain, fall, collision, or strain.

In the presence of cold, blood vessels constrict – limiting blood flow to the surface of the skin. When an area of the body is injured, blood leaks from ruptured vessels, causing swelling, pain and tenderness. Ice works by immediately causing the blood vessels to constrict, which limits swelling.

Ice can also be used to treat chronic injuries. For instance, if you have chronic knee pain that reoccurs after a run, you might want to ice your knee after running to prevent swelling and pain.

But we don’t recommend icing a chronic area before exercise, as this can stiffen the muscles and make them more prone to injury.


When to Use Heat for an Injury

Heat therapy, by contrast, soothes and relaxes sore muscles and tendons. It’s generally recommended to treat chronic pain – or pain that’s gone on a long time, rather than a new injury.

Cold causes blood vessels to constrict; heat causes them to open up. Under normal circumstances, blood vessels relax in hot weather to increase blood flow to the surface of the skin, helping the body to cool down.

Because of this, it’s typically not recommended to use heat on a sudden, acute injury – because the heat source will cause the blood vessels to relax and increase blood flow to the area.

This can have the effect of increasing swelling and pain.

However, if you have persistent pain from a chronic injury, heat can help mitigate that pain. It can relax tight muscles, improve the flexibility of connective tissues, and encourage blood flow and healing.

This is why heat therapy is often recommended for a chronically injured area before exercise, to relax tender muscles – but not after, when it can exacerbate injury in an area of the body that may already be under stress from the exercise.


Are You Suffering from a Chronic Injury?

At Rush Chiropractic, we’ve helped patients treat and manage pain resulting from both chronic and acute injuries – and we can help you.

Give us a call at 954-432-5006 to schedule your consultation today.

In Pain?

We Can Help!