Ice vs. Heat for Injuries

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This post is by Bernie Carr,

A few weeks ago, I went to the chiropractor for an adjustment.  My lower back had been bothering me so I asked for some tips for self care.  The chiropractor told me I can use ice to relieve inflammation when needed.  I asked him about applying heat, and he indicated heat is fine for pain relief, but must not be used when inflammation is involved.  I thought it would be good to sort out what I learned so I don’t make the mistake of using ice or heat when inappropriate.  (Please see your doctor for your specific condition.  I am not a medical professional, just sharing information I have learned for first aid purposes.)


  • Recent injuries (within 48 hours)
  • Soothe inflamed tissues
  • Minimize swelling

Use ice or cold pack three times a day for pain, inflammation or swelling.  Initially, ice the area for 10 minutes, once per hour.  Always have a cloth or towel between your skin and the ice pack.  Do not keep ice in the same area for more than 15-20 minutes each time, and do not fall asleep while icing the area.  You can injure your skin or have resulting nerve damage if you keep it on for too long.


  • Use for chronic conditions, not a recent injury
  • Stimulate blood flow to the area
  • Good for muscle pain relief after exercise

Never use heat when swelling is involved.  Remove heating pad if it is uncomfortably warm to avoid burns.  Do not fall asleep with the heating pad.

To be on the safe side, do not use either ice or heat packs in areas that have an infection, have poor circulation, nerve damage with decreased sensation.  Check with your physician about using either one if you have diabetes.

For more information, this site has good information on whether to use ice or heat on common conditions.

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