You’re in pain… do you apply hot or cold?

You’re you in pain… do you apply hot or cold?

I get this question all the time from my clients and the truth is that both heat and ice can help reduce pain. However, it can be confusing to decide which is more appropriate at any given time. The basic rules may help: 

                         – Ice is for injuries                          – Heat is for muscles

 Another Tip…

Acute pain or a new swollen/inflamed injury – Use Cold

Chronic pain or an injury that is a day or more old or pain that is persistent and recurring– Use Hot


Heat is relaxing, and overworked muscles respond best to heat. Heat stimulates blood flow, relaxes spasms, soothes sore muscles and helps eliminate toxins. It also relaxes soreness and stiffness to bring relief. If you suffer from an ongoing injury, apply heat before exercising. Applying heat after exercise can aggravate existing pain. Use a moist heating pad, take a hot bath, go in the sauna or take a hot shower.

Ice is used to help fresh injuries. Cold is best for acute pain and inflammation. Ice is used when the injury is recent, red, inflamed, or sensitive. Ice numbs the injury. The cold narrows blood vessels and slows down blood flow. This can reduce fluid buildup in the affected area. Ice is believed to aid in control of inflammation and swelling.  It relieves pain, but does not treat the underlying cause. Cold therapy can also help relieve any inflammation or pain that occurs after exercise. However, unlike heat, you should apply ice after going for a run. Cold treatment can reduce post-exercise inflammation. Use: ice pack, ice massage, cold gel pack or a bag of frozen vegetables.

 Tips on applying cold

  • Apply cold immediately after injury or intense, high-impact exercise.
  • Always wrap ice packs in a towel before applying to an affected area.
  • It’s alright to repeatedly ice painful or swollen tissues. However, you should give your body a break between sessions.
  • Do not use ice in areas where you have circulation problems.
  • Never use ice for more than 20 minutes at a time.


Ultimately, you need to choose what works best for you. If cold feels unpleasant, then heat may provide more comfort.