Ice or Heat?

Ice treatment is most commonly used for acute injuries. For a recent injury (within the last 48 hours) where swelling is a problem, you should be using an ice treatment. Ice packs can help minimize swelling around the injury, reduce bleeding into the tissues, and reduce muscle spasms and pain. Ice packs are often used after injuries such as ankle sprains.

Ice treatment may also be used for chronic conditions, such as an overuse injury in athletes. In this case, ice the injured area after activity to help control inflammation. Avoid icing a chronic injury before activity.

When applying ice directly on an injury, keep the pack moving to avoid ice burns. Remove the pack immediately if the injury appears bright pink or red. 

Avoid using ice packs around the front or side of the neck.

Heat treatments should be used for chronic conditions to help relax and loosen tissues and to stimulate blood flow to the area. Heat treatments for chronic conditions should be used before participating in activities.

Do not have athletes use heat treatments after activity, and do not have them use heat after an acute injury.

When using heat treatments, be very careful to use a moderate heat for a limited time to avoid burns. Never leave heating pads or towels on for extended periods of time or while sleeping.

Other Precautions

Don’t use cold or heat packs:

  • Over areas of skin that are in poor condition
  • Over areas of skin with poor sensation to heat or cold
  • Over areas of the body with known poor circulation
  • In the presence of infection

If your athlete is dealing with an old or current injury and it is not responding to home treatments, call our sports medicine specialists at Desert Orthopaedic Center at (702) 731-4088.