Heat or Ice in managing pain – the burning question!

Heat and Cold therapy are both widely recognised as clinical as well as self-treatment options when managing pain from injury, but which is better? And how do I choose which one?

Does it actually matter at all?!

If you’ve ever asked yourself any of these questions, fear not - you are not alone! – in fact they are some of the most common questions we get asked here in clinic when treating both new and existing injuries!

Here we will give a quick overview into both to help you choose which option is best to help with your injury, and help you get on the road to recovery in the fastest and most effective way!


Cold or ‘Cryotherapy’

Cryotherapy is the application of cold therapy which can be used in a number of ways including; ice packs, ice baths, ice massage or cryotherapy chamber.

Cryotherapy is great for acute (early stage) injuries or pain. It acts by reducing blood flow to the area (vasoconstriction), which therefore eases swelling and redness, and can help to prevent bruising.

However, it can inhibit muscular strength and performance, meaning its always better as an option after exercise or training and not before!

How to use?

We recommend applying every 2 hours in the first 48-72 hours after injury, for no longer than 20 mins. If using an ice pack always use a damp towel or similar as a barrier as ice can burn the skin, and take special care if you have conditions such as Diabetes or Raynauds.


Heat or ‘Thermotherapy’

Thermotherapy is the application of heat therapy and can be administered through a number of ways including; heat packs, saunas (traditional and infrared), or ultrasound therapy.

Thermotherapy is great for chronic (ongoing) injuries or pain. It acts in the opposite way to cryotherapy, by increasing blood flow to the area by opening blood vessels (vasodilation), therefore helping to loosen up stiff joints and relaxing tight muscles, as well as increasing joint range of motion.

How to use?

Always wait 72 hours after injury, or until any swelling has completely gone down before using heat therapy. If using a heat pack or wheat bag, wrap in a towel or similar to create a barrier and prevent burns to the skin. Use for no longer than 20 mins.