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Hot or Cold - What is BEST for YOU?

Applying heat or ice to an injury is the easiest way to treat pain and swelling. But which is better? Here are some guidelines.

When to use ice?

Use ice for the following situations;

It’s a NEW injury

It makes sense to apply ice to a new injury for up to about three days. After this, most injuries will have passed through the initial inflammatory stage.

Inflammation is present

Use ice to treat inflamed tissue. Ice helps to reduce the pain of inflammation and reduces swelling. Inflammation is present when you can see redness, swelling and the area of the body is warmer than normal.

The problem is superficial

Your body is very good at maintaining your core temperature so the cooling effect of applying ice to your injury will be very localized.


  • Apply ice for short durations 10 minutes and remove and allow the area to return to normal temperature. This will prevent frostbite.
  • Place a damp cloth between the ice and your skin especially if there is any break in the skin. The damp cloth will spread the cold more evenly and allow the cold to penetrate more deeply.


When to use Heat?

Heat can also reduce pain and can be applied for;

Chronic Pain

If you have been dealing with pain for a long time, most of the initial inflammatory reaction will have subsided making heat a good option at this point in time. The exception is if you suffer from a systemic inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Achy Muscles

Muscles that ache without having had a recent trauma may respond to heat.


  • When you use heat there is a risk of burn. The idea is to apply mild comfortable heat.
  • A hot pack that is moist will conduct heat more effectively so may not need to be heated as much. Keep this in mind when trying to find the right balance


Does hot and cold therapy work?

There is insufficient evidence to suggest that icing will be effective at reducing swelling or inflammation. And in studies it is not totally clear how much of a pain reduction people report with either modality. However, patients regularly report being able to manage their pain better by using heat or ice. Given it is safe and inexpensive it is certainly worth a try!


At Orleans Physiotherapy our registered physiotherapists can help you overcome your injury and get back on track quickly using a comprehensive range of techniques including hot and cold therapy. Our team has been serving the Orleans community for more than 30 years and we have been nominated as the BEST physiotherapy clinic in Ottawa for 2 consecutive years. Whether you have a new injury or chronic pain, we are here to help. Give us a call at 613-830-3145 or email us at info@orleansphysio.com.


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