To Heat or Ice, that is the question

read time: 3 and a half minutes

The answer actually depends on a few other questions

  1. What is the injury? How did it happened? How long has it been bothering you?

Let’s get a little scientific

  1. acute phase is from when the injury happens to a few days (day 1-3)
  2. Subacute phase (day 4-3 weeks)
  3. Chronic phase (3 weeks and more)

Knowing which phase you’re in will help decide if ice, heat or neither is best for you.

It’s highly debatable if you should even ice an acute injury at all. The biggest argument being that the inflammatory process is there to heal the body. That being said, studies have shown that the inflammatory response releases a lot of physiological things which cause edema (inflammation). This is all necessary to start the healing process, but at times more physiological things are released than necessary. I’m a strong believer that you need to let the body help heal itself but sometimes the pain is just too much to handle and that’s where ice comes in.

Ice has been shown to decrease pain caused by inflammation, and for that reason if you strain your muscle or sprain a ligament I’m suggesting ice in the early phases.

In case you were curious

  • A tendon attaches muscle to bone
  • A ligament attaches bone to bone
  • fascia is a thin layer of connective tissue that surrounds muscles and groups of muscles, kind of like saran wrap

Now back to the ice!

I suggest for the first 2-3 days to ice 3-5 times a day for 15-20 mins with at least 40 minutes of rest in between. You don’t want to over ice because will hinder the natural inflammation process.

Day 4-7 you may still feel the need to ice at which point I’m suggesting 2-3x times a day for 15-20 minutes

During this process you may want to contact a therapist who specializes in the musculoskeletal system to help with the pain management.


I will generally only suggest heat after 10 days. There are, however, exceptions.

Heat brings nutrients to the system to help with the healing process and can also help decrease the pain. You should not heat during the inflammation process because this will cause more  inflammation.

Depending on the severity of the injury you may only need to ice for 1 day to help manage the pain. Listen to your body.

Bonus Step: If you are well into the chronic phase and notice that your joint is still quite inflamed I suggest you use both heat and cold to act as a pump to help reduce the edema by dilating and constricting the area respectively.

Heat pad – Ice pack (or ice bath)

3 mins on – 1 min on

Back and forth for 20 minutes

For the exceptions:

  1. If you don’t have any real pain but your muscles and body feel achy then take a slightly warmer shower or, even better, a bath and if you’re fortunate enough to have a hot tub then use it!
  2. If you had a tough workout and your muscles feel extra good (I mean tight). Then the same heat applies from number one.


If you have any questions or comments please feel free to ask

Time to make one positive change today!