ICE VS HEAT: What is better for an injury or pain?

What is better for an injury or pain?


ice or heat for pain or

Ice packs and heat pads are one of the common treatments used by Chiropractors. But we often have patients using the wrong treatment for their injury or pain.

It can often be confusing if you should use ice or heat. We will be breaking down the two different treatments so you get a better understanding when you should use heat or ice depending on the injury or pain.

A useful tip or general rule of thumb is

❄Acute Injury 🔥Muscle pain
❄Pain 🔥Stiffness


Ice treatment

How it works

Ice treatment or cold therapy works by reducing blood flow to a particular area, hence why ice is recommended for inflammation and swelling. Especially if the pain or injury is around a joint or tendon. Ice can temporarily reduce nerve activity, which can relieve pain, and reduce muscle spasm.


There are several cold treatments we recommend for an injury some include:

  • ice packs or frozen gel packs
  • coolant sprays
  • ice massage
  • ice baths

When NOT to use ice?

Please note even though ice is a recommended treatment for pain, inflammation and swelling it is important to NOT ice the wound for too long as this can cause your joints to feel tighter and stiffer, thus increasing pain. Another common mistake is icing chronic muscle pain. Muscle pain does not always mean an injury. Common chronic pain problems that are mistakenly treated with ice include back and neck pain.

Do not use ice for:

  • Chronic back and neck pain
  • Left shoulder if you have a heart condition
  • Front or side of the neck.

Heat treatment

How it works

Heat treatment or heat therapy works by improving circulation and blood flow to a particular area due to increased temperature. Improving circulation can help alleviate stress and tension in the afflicted area, hence why it is effective in treating chronic pain. Improving blood flow can help heal damaged tissue and relax and sooth the muscles. Heat therapy can be used for a longer period than ice and can often be effective within 15-20 min.


  • Dry heat (or “conducted heat therapy”) includes sources like heating pads, dry heating packs, and even saunas. This heat is easy to apply.
  • Moist heat (or “convection heat”) includes sources like steamed towels, moist heating packs, or hot baths. Moist heat may be slightly more effective as well as require less application time for the same results.

When NOT to use heat?

  • A bruised or swollen area
  • Inflammation
  • Acute Injury
  • Open wounds

If you have questions regarding the proper treatment of an injury call your local doctor.

Southern California Orthopedic Institute. (n.d.). Should You Ice or Heat an injury? Retrieved from

Ana Gotter. (2019). Treating Pain with Heat and Cold. Heathline. Retrieved from




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