Ice🧊and Heat🔥

One of the most common questions we hear in clinic, is which is more beneficial to use? This article hopes to tackle this questions and give some general information to help you.

Using ice or heat as a treatment is called Cryotherapy. (In case you ever hear that in the future – otherwise its not much use for you)

When part of the body is in pain or injured the following occurs:  inflammation, increased blood flow and increased pain sensitivity. Although all of these do not have direct correlation, it does happen.

The area initially becomes inflamed to help promote healing. This response however becomes exaggerated in some and this inflammation overshoots. Think of it like a bungee jump; you jump as far as the bungee stretches although you will eventually be pulled back to the bungees normal length this is what happens with inflammation. Ice brings that bungee back to its normal length and a lot quicker. In theory this is why we recommend the ice initially for injuries and initial acute painful episodes. Theoretically heat increases the inflammation.

Ice is generally used to reduce blood flow to the area it is applied this theoretically decreases inflammation which goes to the area. Hence if something is swollen ice is generally used. Ice is useful in the short term, Especially in sprains, strains and acute pains.

We recommend using ice for only 20 minutes (on deeper areas like your low back – to 5 mins for areas like your wrist). Ensure you wrap it in a thin towel and do not place it directly on the skin without a thin towel. Try and use it five times a day 20 minutes each time (depending on the area); this causes a reflex, and the blood vessels constrict as the temperature of the body’s skin drops below 15°C. It also activates pain gate strategies and helps alleviate pain via this route in a nutshell it reduces conduction of certain pain relaying fibres in the nervous system.

Conversely heat increases the blood flow, relaxes the muscles and is especially useful in the mornings when someone is experiencing stiffness think of it like a morning shower. We recommend this when a lot of the clients have tight muscles and recurring stiffness and also when they are in so much pain that they cannot stretch and have to take medications.

For most pains people can use alternating modes of ice and heat therapy. This is where both ice and heat are used together straight after one another. It’s an incredibly useful tool with acute injuries and pain conditions such as neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, sprain, strains and stiff joints. It can also be useful for non-acute conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches and nerve injuries.

Under ice and heat therapy the skin colour can change it will become slightly pinkish or red. This is normal, but don’t let your skin stay that way when you reapply the next round of ice and heat during the five times per day recommended.

Some risks and unwanted side-effects can occur such as

-purple or dark red changes to skin colour. Bruising colours and mottled spots

-skin rashes – blisters/highest/swelling

If this happens stop using the ice and heat immediately

If there are certain ruptures such as opening within the skin, the bones, muscle and tendons, then it is debated whether ice or heat is useful in these causes where trauma has occurred. In this case you will most likely be in A+E if there was an accident or direct trauma to cause an opening in the first place.

It is a well-known fact and good for you to remember that muscles have much much better blood supply when compared to tendons and also compared to ligaments. This is why muscles heal much quicker than tendons and ligaments. For this reason it may be more useful to apply heat to ligament and tendon injuries rather than muscle injuries in a way of promoting healing correctly.

An equation by Van’t Hoff states for 1°C increase in temperature there is a 13% increase in metabolism within the skin or muscle.

Tendon and joint capsules are very deep to be significantly changed and benefited from heat therapy when it’s applied to the skin however this does not mean it’s worthwhile using heat to relieve pain and help stretching of tissues. Heat is thought to be best for those with long-term issues in chronic pain and if there is long-term inflammation which is regarded as more than six months duration.

Do not use heat if you have insensitivity (Multiple Sclerosis, diabetes, circulatory disturbances, atherosclerosis, cardiac patients, varicose veins). Also if you bruise easily have haemophilia, if oedema is already present, very young kids and very all the adults cannot tolerate heat quite as well.

Generally ice and heat can both be used for most aches and pains.

If you’re still unsure call in today on 01772 749389 or email

From the Preston Chiropractor Team
Getting You Back in Action & Enjoying Your Life Again
Serving the people of Preston and surrounding areas including Southport and Lytham St Annes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.