When you have pain in one of your joints or muscles, many people wonder if it’s better to apply ice or apply heat to the area to provide pain relief. Whether the pain comes from an injury, headache, arthritis, or something else, here is some helpful info about when you should apply ice to an injury and when you should use heat.

Ice or Heat? What To Use & When?

Sports Injuries

When you have an injury that is sports-related it may seem like you should turn to heat. After all, heat is comfy and cozy, and it seems like it would make you feel better. Ice is cold and seems to be mean like it would aggravate the pain even more. However, when you are dealing with inflammation, swelling, and acute pain, ice is the winner. Using a heating pad or any type of warmth in an area where the muscle is injured can be quite harmful. The heat will perpetuate the inflammation cycle and make the situation worse. Icing after an injury can help to minimize the pain and reduce swelling caused by inflammation. Moist heat will help to loosen up an injured muscle before stretching or other activities.


There is nothing quite like suffering from a really bad headache or a migraine. If you are suffering from these conditions, the best thing that you can do is to use a cold mask or wrap around the eyes, temples, and forehead. However, heat wraps might help if neck or muscle spasms are contributing to your headache.


If you suffer from arthritis, or if you have an injury that lasts more than six weeks, heat is the answer. People who suffer from chronic osteoarthritis will often feel better when they apply heat to the areas that are sore. For those who suffer from gout, ice is often the better choice for a flare-up.

Tips for Applying Ice

When you are applying ice to an injury, it is typically recommended that you apply the ice to the area for twenty minutes. Then take the ice off of the area for twenty minutes and repeat with the ice on the injury. You can continue this cycle until the tenderness, swelling, or inflammation goes away.

Ice packs are great, but if you do not have one you can substitute a bag of frozen vegetables such as peas or corn. You can also place ice cubes in a baggie. It is generally recommended that you do not put the frozen pack directly on your skin. Wrap the baggie in a washcloth or paper towel before you apply.

A quick response is the most important thing that you can do for any injury. The sooner that you apply ice to the area to reduce inflammation the higher the chances the injury will quickly heal. Additionally, ice can prevent or limit any internal bleeding. You may also want to use ice after any high-intensity exercise in order to reduce or prevent inflammation.

Tips for Using Heat

Heat therapy can be extremely soothing as the heat will increase tissue elasticity and stimulate circulation. You should not use heat therapy after strenuous activity. To apply heat you can use a hot damp towel or a heating pad. Hot showers or baths might also help alleviate some pain that you are experiencing.

Just as with ice therapy, it is essential to take precautions. Do not use heat for extended periods of time and do not sleep with your heating pad on. If you leave a heat treatment on for too long it can result in skin irritation, blisters, and even burns. The most effective way to use heat therapy is twenty minutes on and then twenty minutes off.


When it comes down to whether to use ice or heat for an injury, it is important to understand how your body reacts to an injury. Knowing the difference between a chronic condition and an acute condition can help determine whether ice or heat will help.

Urgent Care Omaha Walk-In Clinics and in Bellevue, NE

Our staff works to provide prompt, personal, and professional care for all of our patients. We strive to provide the attention patients need in as quick a time as possible. Urgent Care Clinics in Omaha & Bellevue, Nebraska has three locations in the Omaha metropolitan area. Our three walk-in clinics are:

The information contained on this webpage is for educational purposes as well as to provide general information and general understanding of the pertinent medical issue only, not to provide a specific diagnosis. This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. By using this blog/web site you understand there is no doctor patient relationship between you and the blog/web site publisher. The information included on this site should not be used as a substitute for medical advice from a licensed medical professional in your state. Neither Urgent Care Network, its subsidiaries, affiliates, assignees or successors in interest, nor any other party assume liability for loss or damage due to reliance on content of this blog/web site. If you are experiencing a severe medical issue, you should seek emergency assistance immediately.


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