What’s better: Ice or Heat?

What’s better: Ice or Heat?

When you get an injury it’s common to have your coach or athletic trainer tell you to “ice it”, but are there certain injuries that should be treated with heat instead? Heating pads and ice packs are two of the greatest resources you can have on hand if you suffer from an injury or chronic pain. So how do you know which to use?


Ice is for injury and inflammation. Ice is used in sports to calm down damaged muscles and tissues in order to dull the pain and treat the pain of inflammation. Ice is perfect for superficial tissue injuries and tears. Ice is also good for sore muscles after a workout or strenuous activity.


Heat is for chronic pain, deep tissue pain, and stress. Applying heat to chronic pain spots or trigger points, can help ease the tension and spasm in muscles. This includes back pain and neck pain that stem from tense muscles and stress tension. Stress is one of the biggest factors in chronic pain. Heat can help soothe the nervous system and lessen stress levels.

Just like heat and ice can help pain, they can also hinder recovery if used in the wrong way. Generally you don’t want to use ice for tension or spasms that come along with chronic pain. Ice can actually make chronic pain in the neck or back worse by aggravating the trigger points. Ice very rarely will cause further damage but heat, on the other hand, could.  Any physical therapist or athletic trainer will say that applying heat to a fresh injury is not a good idea. When applied to a recently inflamed injury, heat can actually worsen the inflammation.

If you don’t know if you should be icing or applying pressure, be sure to ask one of our athletic trainers or physical therapy staff here at OSR. At our integrated health center in Kailua, we offer a whole body approach to healing injuries and chronic pain. If you or someone you know is suffering from pain, our staff can help you. For more information or to set up your complimentary consultation call us today at 488-5555!

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