When patients present to Moramarco Chiropractic Office with injuries, they often ask how they can continue self-care at home and whether they should use ice or heat to treat pain. There is a lot of confusion about when to use cold vs. hot therapy in treating common injuries, so we provided a basic guideline below. Please note that this is general advice, and patients can contact us at 781-938-8558 for further clarification or consultation on their specific injury.

When to use ice

In general, ice is the best choice for injuries and inflammation, since cold restricts blood vessels to reduce inflammation and swelling. Sprains, strains and bruising call for cold therapy.

Immediate ice treatment helps prevent the injury from becoming stiff, while rehabilitative ice treatment reduces pain and spasms in the affected area to restore function and allow for better movement.

Ice should never be applied directly to the skin! Ice packs should be wrapped in a wet cloth and applied to the skin for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Patients with poor circulation or cardiovascular disease should consult with their doctor before using cold therapy.

When to use heat

Unlike ice, heat opens blood vessels – increasing blood flow to an affected area. Heat therapy is better suited for relaxing, repairing damaged tissue, and alleviating aches and pains associated with minor stiffness and tension. Heat therapy should provide a nice, even warmth (not a hot burn). Heat should NOT be used when you have swelling or bruising and should never be used on/near an open wound. Patients with heart disease and/or high blood pressure should consult with their doctor before using heat therapy.

Ice or Heat to Treat Pain – The bottom line

Cold and heat therapy are beneficial in treating injuries caused by physical activity, but they are not long-term solutions. Regular spinal adjustments can help reduce tension and pain, using the body’s natural healing process. This is why many of our patients choose to come in for their “monthly tune-up,” decreasing the likelihood of further injuries and need for more invasive pain-relief.

ice or heat to treat pain