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When to Ice and When to Heat an Injury

Injured? When to Ice and When to Heat

You get out of bed like you normally do, but this time when you go to stand up, you feel a sharp pain in your lower back. Did you overdo it in Zumba yesterday or just sleep funny? Either way, it seriously hurts, and you want relief. You can't remember if it's better to grab an ice pack or a heating pad.

Both methods increase blood flow to the injured area and are beneficial in reducing pain as well as speeding the healing process. Heat increases circulation, which boosts the supply of oxygen to the area and accelerates the removal of waste products. Ice restricts blood flow, which reduces inflammation and numbs pain. To ice or to heat? This chart should help.

Ice Heat
How Long
Use ice pack, bag filled with ice cubes, or bag of frozen vegetables; apply no longer than 20 minutes Use heating pad, hot towels, or a hot bath; apply no longer than 20 minutes
  • If you've hurt yourself in the last 48 hours (sprained your ankle or hammered your thumb instead of the nail).
  • If the area is swollen, ice will decrease the inflammation around the injury, which will help control the pain.
  • After surgery, to reduce swelling, bleeding, and bruising.
  • For chronic injuries suffered by athletes such as shin splints and runner's knee; ice after the activity to reduce inflammation.
  • If you have chronic pain such as sore, stiff, nagging joint or muscle pain, heat brings new blood to the area to help loosen the tissues, which helps them relax.
  • For chronic conditions such as a tight hamstring, heat the area before you exercise to improve elasticity.
  • For chronic injuries that are aggravated by certain activities, heat beforehand to loosen the muscles.
Image Source: Thinkstock / Fuse
Join The Conversation
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
Thanks for this. :)
Soniabonya Soniabonya 9 years
hmm... so i should ice my chronic knee pain after i do a run or spin? good to know. i knew i should have worn knee pads in highschool intermural volleyball. i am still feeling the reprecussions :(
Arthur Arthur 9 years
I keep a dozen dixie cups filled and frozen in the freezer. when I get back from whatever I've just overdone, i ice it for 10 - 15 min while i cool down. the heating pad is plugged in next to the couch so i can use it when i flip on the tube and flip off the brain. wish i didn't have to get old :(
nancita nancita 9 years
Good tips. I never think about using heat, but it's good to know when to do so.
Novaraen Novaraen 9 years
When i go to the chiropractor for my back injuries...he always has them put me on a heat pad first...then he works on me...then they ice afterwards.
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 9 years
oooo I hate sports injuries...they are the WORSE!!!
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