When Do I Use Ice & When Do I Use Heat?

When do I use heat and when do I use cold?
I get this question a lot from patients asking when it’s best to use each one.
The best answer I can give is feel the area that is injured, if it feels warm/hot use ice and if it feels cool use heat. Ice is best to use when the injury is acute or it just happened in the last 24-48 hrs. It’s good to use on areas that are red, painful, and swollen because you want to constrict blood flow in order to control the swelling and numb the area to decrease pain. Be careful how long you leave the ice on though. Ice can burn your skin if you leave it on for too long. Don’t fall asleep with ice on! Ice is a powerful vasoconstrictor, so don’t exceed 20 min. at a time.
Heat is best to use if the injury is chronic, stiff, or tight. Heat encourages blood flow to an area and that helps with healing. Moist heat is best because it can penatrate into the muscle layer better than superficial heat which just heats up the skin. Do not use heat if you have pitting edema (meaning when you press on the area, your finger-print indentation stays longer than 10 sec.) Heat is a vasodilator so it encourages blood flow which you don’t need to do if it’s already swollen. Also, make sure there are enough layers btw your skin and the heat pack so you don’t burn your skin.
Image result for heat pack images                   Image result for heat pack images                     Image result for heat pack images
Thanks for reading. Let me know if you have questions!

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Jessica is a licensed physical therapist currently living and working in NY.

3 thoughts on “When Do I Use Ice & When Do I Use Heat?”

    1. Glad you enjoyed! For circulation, moist heat is also a good option, of course a more natural form of promoting circulation would be exercise. For blood clots, heat can also help, but exercise would be contraindicated b/c if there is a blood clot present, you don’t want it to start traveling in the blood stream to other areas i.e. lungs or brain which would be a very dangerous situation. Hope that helps!

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