Ice Ice Baby

“When do I use ice or heat for an injury?”

This is a question, that as physiotherapists, we hear almost every day.

So what is the answer? And why is it complicated?


  • Ice- if there is an inflammatory component (Swelling, heat, etc) or it’s in the first 48 hours after the injury; then your best course of treatment is ice.
  • Heat- if it’s a chronic injury or more of a muscle tightness rather than pain; then try a heat pack for 15-20minutes at a time.
  • Back Pain – 90% of the time heat is best for back and neck pain. It is only a true muscle strain or inflammation (heat, redness etc) that you should use ice for.

There are some questions surrounding the use of ice as it reduces the inflammatory action after an injury. Inflammation gets a bad rap when in reality it is vital for your body to begin the healing process. It is when the body goes overboard sending too many inflammatory particles to an injured area where inflammation can be detrimental to the healing process.

The use of ice is suggested for 10 minutes on and 20minutes off. This in conjunction with some compression on the injury site aims to allow some inflammation to occur, but not too much whilst still helping to decrease the pain. This is also why anti-inflammatory medications are not suggested in the first 72 hours of a muscle injury. We need some inflammation to start the healing process.

Whether you apply heat or ice, be sure to continue to check the skin every few minutes and don’t use on any areas with reduced sensation to make sure you don’t burn (or ice burn) your skin.

Just as every injury is different, every treatment needs to be different as well. Our physiotherapists at Ergoworks can assess your injury in your first consultation and give the appropriate advice and education which is tailored specifically to each individual including whether heat or ice is appropriate for your issue.

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