Sunday, June 4, 2023

Ice or Heat: What to Use for Muscle Pain?

Use ice packs for new and acute injuries. Use heat pads for old and chronic pain.


  • Use ice compression for recent or acute injuries such as sprains, cuts, and swelling.
  • Heat pads should be used for older or chronic ailments such as stiff joints and muscles.
  • Maximum duration of application: Fifteen minutes at a time.

The Science

  • When injured, the body’s reaction is inflammation and swelling, which also causes pain.
  • Ice cools the body part, constricting the blood vessels and reducing blood supply to the area. Heat does the reverse, bringing in more blood and nutrients with it.

Ice Application

  • When the injury is recent, applying ice reduces the swelling and eases pain.
  • You can start applying ice immediately after a sprain. Continue for fifteen minutes at a time, but not longer.
  • Ice application may ease the pain even by numbing the region.
  • Ice packs can be applied to stop bleeding.
  • Don’t apply ice directly on the injury for more than two minutes; use a wet towel or plastic bag to hold ice cubes longer.
  • If ice is unavailable, use a packet of frozen vegetables or a milk pouch (don’t let them thaw fully, as that can lead to bacterial growth in the pack).
  • Keep moving the pack slowly to avoid ice burns.
  • You can do this four to six times daily until the swelling disappears. You may even repeat this cycle every hour, time permitting.

Heat Application

  • For chronic or healing injuries, heat helps increase blood supply to the region, relaxing muscle fibres and reducing muscle spasms. An increased range of motion decreases joint and muscle stiffness.
  • Be careful when using heat pads or hot water: excess heat can cause thermal burns. The idea is to gently warm the area, not to scald it with high heat.
  • Heat should be applied only once or twice a day for ten minutes. Don’t do it more frequently.
  • Do not use heat packs in the first 48 hours after an injury.

To Read More

First Published on: 19th April 2023
Image Credits: Vidal Balielo Jr. on Pexels
Last Updated on: 20th April 2023


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