Hot or cold? Yes or no?


There is an enormous amount of confusion around the use of heat or ice to help with different kinds of pain. Thankfully, it’s really quite simple for most people in most situations.


Therapeutic heat and ice are simple, easy, inexpensive and helpful self-treatment aids for most people and in many common problems. Neither is a magic bullet but they can help! Just remember to not use heat or ice directly on your skin and be sure to check that you don’t have a health condition which could make heat or ice unsafe.

So, as a general rule…


Ice is for acute/new injuries near the surface.

When you have a sudden onset of new pain and it is red/hot/swollen then ice is appropriate – for example, a freshly pulled muscle or a sprained ankle. You can also use ice on chronic overuse injuries such as tennis elbow or plantar fasciitis.

 The inflammation is a healthy and normal process, but it’s painful so ice is a great help for slowing down this particular process that causes pain. Always remember to wrap the ice in something (i.e. a thin cloth), and apply it until the area feels numb, then take it off. Wait till the area warms up again – and repeat.


Heat is for muscle pain/aching and stiffness, chronic pain, and stress related pain.


Heat helps soften and take the edge off, both physically and mentally. It also helps relax muscles and stimulates blood flow to the area. It can be effective pain relief for muscle tension. It is also helpful with chronic conditions where long-term tightness or damage has reduced circulation in the area as it will encourage repair cells to accumulate where it is applied.

If you do want to use heat to make pain more bearable, you can do so as long as after you have relaxed with the heat you then apply ice to the area. This will disperse any additional cells that may have gathered during the application of the heat pack.


For any advice please give us a ring on 01722 512 043 to book an appointment and one of our expert osteopaths will be more than happy to give you specific advice on your condition.


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